Six months of Covid-19 in Singapore: A special report

It was Jan 23 when Singapore registered its first infected patient case and still the battle against the pandemic goes on. Insight looks at how the lessons learnt are shaping the future.

The last-line defenders

There have been no Covid-19 patients at the intensive care unit at the National Centre For Infectious Diseases (NCID) since June 15.

Associate Professor Tan Hui Ling is praying hard it will continue to remain empty.

"I hope that people will be responsible so that there are no new waves of infections. You do not want to end up in the ICU because of Covid-19. It's a very horrible experience," says the senior consultant in the department of anaesthesiology, intensive care and pain medicine at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).

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Ex-officer spent nearly 70 days in TTSH-NCID

Mr Wong Shin Liang, 71, used to be able to lustily belt out several numbers at one ago at home or in a karaoke club.

Not anymore, not since he spent nearly 70 days in the Tan Tock Seng Hospital-National Centre for Infectious Diseases (TTSH-NCID) after being diagnosed with Covid-19 in early February. "I'm only 60 per cent of my former self. I still get breathless sometimes," says the former infantry officer.

The coronavirus debilitated him severely; he had pneumonia and had to be hooked up to a ventilator. He also suffered acute intestinal bleeding on a couple of occasions, requiring blood transfusions.

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Novel approaches for a novel coronavirus

Clad in overalls and equipped with N95 masks and face shields, a trio of scientists huddled over a manhole outside a foreign worker dormitory. They warned the media gathered around them last Wednesday: "Stay at least 2m away."

When they were satisfied that we were far away enough to avoid being spattered by any stray droplets, they prised open the lid, and lowered a tube into the depths of the sewers.

They hit a few buttons on an auto-sampling machine, and minutes later, they hit pay dirt - literally.

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Docs learn more about treatment

Some Covid-19 patients are reporting that their recovery is taking longer than expected, as they experience shortness of breath and fatigue. Some have problems focusing, and headaches and dizziness, while others suffer anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Still, six months since the first case here, not much is known about these patients, and who is clearly at risk. "Anecdotally, many of my patients who I see in follow-up tell me that they feel tired and not quite able to do as much as they used to, but that they are gradually improving," says Professor Paul Tambyah, a senior consultant at the Division of Infectious Diseases at the National University Hospital (NUH).

"This is common with many viral infections, such as influenza and dengue, so I usually reassure them that this will generally gradually resolve over time."

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He's still haunted by flashbacks of his stay in ICU

When Mr Ben Ng, 55, fell severely ill with Covid-19 in March, he spent 13 days in the intensive care unit (ICU).

 
 

There, he experienced the terror of ICU delirium, when he hallucinated continuously and lost track of night and day.

Little did he realise that the mental toll of the harrowing experience would continue long after he was declared free of the virus and discharged later that month.

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Working from home works, but the office has its place too

Some companies had to make radical changes after Covid-19 broke out in Singapore in order to allow staff to work from home.

Curtains and blinds retailer mc.2, for instance, quickly put together new product demonstration videos to help its sales staff conduct consultations with clients via video calls rather than at the showroom.

Others that already had some experience with remote working had to scale up their systems.

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Contact tracing: Plug the public transport gap

It is a common sight at train and bus stations: Commuters walk past the QR code on display without scanning it. Even on taxis, few people scan the QR code to log their entries and exits by supplying the Government with their contact information and identity number.

The common refrain: "It's too cumbersome, and I'm in a rush."

One commuter, who wants to be known only as Mr Ng, said: "It is not compulsory."

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Lessons from high-density dorms spark new approach

For months, foreign worker dormitories have been Singapore's biggest Covid-19 challenge. At one point, new cases in dorms were hovering at close to 1,000 a day, and virtually all dormitories were put under effective lockdown.

A massive, multi-ministry effort kicked off in April to contain the spread in dorms, with a detailed system to test, isolate and hospitalise workers, and protect those who have recovered.

The work has paid off: On Friday, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said Singapore is about two weeks away from clearing all dormitories of cases.

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Firm sees silver lining in staff loyalty and spirit amid crisis

When the Covid-19 pandemic first struck Singapore, local horticultural firm Nature Landscapes knew it had to be prepared for business to be hit.

Planning from the outset enabled it to shift operations to home-based work arrangements smoothly.

But the firm did not expect the pandemic to drag on for as long as it has, with bottlenecks in official clearance for its migrant workers creating more problems, said the company's executive director Jacqueline Allan.

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Global infections up by millions a week

One hundred hours. That's all it took for global coronavirus infections to rise by a million in the five days leading up to last Saturday a week ago.

Just four days later, on Wednesday, total case numbers hit 15 million after surging by another million as a pandemic that has crippled the global economy and put millions of people out of work spread at an unprecedented rate. And by yesterday evening, the tally was just shy of 16 million.

And there is no sign of it slowing. With multiple countries recording record rates of infection in the past two weeks, the grim statistics disprove policymakers' hopes that strict lockdowns would rein in the disease.

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S'pore could start vaccine human trials this week

Human trials for a Covid-19 vaccine could begin in Singapore as early as this week.

The trial will involve 108 healthy volunteers of various ages in Singapore who will be injected with the vaccine developed by Duke-NUS Medical School and United States pharmaceutical company Arcturus Therapeutics.

Called Lunar-Cov19, the vaccine is one of 25 vaccine candidates worldwide that either have been tested on humans, or have received approval to do so. Some 141 others are still at a pre-clinical phase.

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Singapore in multilateral initiative to secure vaccine doses

Global anticipation for a Covid-19 vaccine has heightened in the light of promising findings from early-stage human trials.

And while experts say more studies are needed and that a commercially available vaccine could still be more than a year away, nations around the world are looking to secure sufficient doses to inoculate their populations ahead of time.

Singapore is one of 75 nations in a multilateral initiative that will ensure the Republic gets access to vaccine doses.

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