NTU hostel residents tested for Covid-19, told to self-isolate after viral fragments found in wastewater

Viral fragments of the Covid-19 virus were picked up in wastewater at Hall of Residence 13, Block 61. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - All 38 residents in a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) student housing block were made to go for a supervised antigen rapid test on Monday (Aug 23).

This was after viral fragments of the Covid-19 virus were picked up in wastewater at Hall of Residence 13, Block 61, as part of the university's wastewater surveillance programme.

A testing station was set up from 3pm to 7pm on Monday at the multi-purpose hall next to the affected block, where residents could walk in for their test with no prior appointment, said deputy president and provost Ling San and senior vice-president (administration) Tan Aik Na in an e-mail to students seen by The Straits Times.

All residents were told to self-isolate immediately in their respective hall rooms or at their residence and to minimise physical contact with others.

Students were told not to visit or enter the premises of Block 61, to monitor their health and to avoid coming to campus if they are ill.

They added that affected students will be contacted by their respective faculties to provide support.

ST understands that all activities organised by the hall have been suspended, such as sports and dance training. Residents were also advised by hall authorities to order meals for takeaway and to eat in their own rooms.

This comes after two NTU students tested positive for Covid-19 in the past week. The cases were announced to students by the President's Office last week in separate e-mails.

The first student was linked to a case outside of school and has not been on campus since the infection, the President's Office said last Tuesday.

It added that NTU was advised by MOH that contact tracing was not needed. The school did not provide other details of the case.

NTU announced a second infection last Saturday, of a fully vaccinated student, and said all close contacts of the student have been placed on leave of absence by the school or issued a quarantine order by MOH.

Both Professor Ling and Ms Tan urged all unvaccinated students to get jabbed in order to protect themselves and those in the community.

Wastewater surveillance has been implemented at more than 200 locations here since February, including workers' dormitories, student hostels and welfare and nursing homes.

A disinfecting crew was seen at the carpark outside Hall 13. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post in July that this method has helped the authorities identify possible transmission clusters early and quickly test and ring-fence cases to minimise the spread to the community.

He said then: "So while this method cannot detect an infected individual, it is a very good early warning system, which enabled us to proactively conduct swab operations at Hougang, Yishun and Bukit Merah View to reduce further transmission to the wider community."

Biological sciences student Lim Shing Yee, 22, who was near Hall 13 to visit a friend, told ST that she was concerned about the cases in school, but felt assured since she and her friends were vaccinated.

She said she would not be surprised if there were more infections that were not known, as those affected could be asymptomatic, but added that people are not as disturbed by the rise in local transmissions as before, as most people are vaccinated.

However, Hall 14 resident Chung Chae Young, 19, said she felt anxious, as she was concerned that there could be more cases in the future.

Curtains were drawn at the multi-purpose hall used for testing, with seats spaced apart inside, when ST visited at 5pm. Security guards were stationed outside the premises and a disinfecting crew was seen at the carpark outside Hall 13.

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