All hotel staff in contact with people on SHN to be tested for Covid-19 every 14 days

The incident at the Mandarin Orchard Singapore hotel has highlighted how the risk of Covid-19 transmission remains despite safety measures in place. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - All hotel staff in contact with people serving stay-home notices (SHN) will now be placed on a rostered routine testing regime, where they will be tested for Covid-19 every two weeks, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said in Parliament on Monday (Jan 4).

Doing so will provide an additional layer of safeguards in hotels which are used as SHN facilities, said Mr Wong in a ministerial statement, noting that a recent incident at the Mandarin Orchard Singapore hotel has highlighted how the risk of Covid-19 transmission remains despite safety measures that have been put in place.

He noted that the authorities had not identified breaches in SHN protocols in the incident at Mandarin Orchard, based on preliminary investigations. But investigations suggest that infection protocols can be improved.

"For example, through better crowd regulation, as well as having good ventilation systems to circulate more fresh air. So, we will continue to work closely with all SHN hotels to ensure that infection prevention protocols are robust."

On Dec 19, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced that it was probing 13 cases of Covid-19 among people who had served their SHN at Mandarin Orchard Singapore.

The National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL), which conducts whole genome sequencing and phylogenetic analysis on all Covid-19 cases, found that the 13 imported cases - who were confirmed to be infected in early November - were infected by coronavirus strains that have high genetic similarity.

This was despite the guests flying in from different countries, implying that the infections may have come from one source.

Last Friday, MOH said it had concluded its investigations into the initial 13 cases and found there was no transmission beyond them, and that other Covid-19 cases who served the SHNs at the hotel were not linked to those 13. No staff tested positive through polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, though 11 had positive serology test results, indicating that they were infected in the past.

Dr Tan Wu Meng (Jurong GRC) asked if MOH will consider establishing capability for scaled-up rapid whole genome sequencing of virus from clinical samples including nose swabs, so as to complement existing genome sequencing done on cultured virus.

It currently takes about four weeks to culture the virus and complete the genome sequencing.

In response, Mr Wong said that this is an established capability within the NPHL, and where possible, whole genome sequencing can be performed rapidly and directly on clinical samples of Covid-19 positive cases.

However, in samples that have low viral loads, it may be necessary for the virus to be cultured before the sequencing can be run, he said.

"We will continue to assess available and emerging laboratory technologies so we can improve our capabilities and enhance our responses."

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