Parliament: Covid-19

Routine testing for all hotel staff in contact with those on SHN

The authorities have so far not identified any breaches in stay-home notice protocols in the incident at Mandarin Orchard Singapore, but the investigations suggest that infection prevention protocols can be improved.
The authorities have so far not identified any breaches in stay-home notice protocols in the incident at Mandarin Orchard Singapore, but the investigations suggest that infection prevention protocols can be improved.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

All hotel staff in contact with people serving stay-home notice (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 yesterday.

Doing so will provide an additional layer of safeguards in hotels which are used as SHN facilities, said Mr Wong, 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.

In a ministerial statement, he said the authorities had not identified breaches in SHN protocols in the incident at the hotel, based on preliminary investigations.

But the investigations suggest that infection prevention protocols can be improved, such as through better crowd regulation, as well as having good ventilation systems to circulate more fresh air.

"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 last year - 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 13 cases and found there was no transmission beyond them, and that other Covid-19 cases who served the SHN 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 the 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."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2021, with the headline 'Routine testing for all hotel staff in contact with those on SHN'. Subscribe