S'pore sees first two Covid-19 deaths

Both patients had history of heart disease; leaders stress need to adopt safe distancing

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Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong addressing reporters and confirming Singapore’s first two Covid-19 deaths on March 21 at the Ministry of Health’s College of Medicine building.

Two Covid-19 patients died at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) yesterday morning due to complications, the first deaths Singapore has seen from the coronavirus that has taken over 10,000 lives globally.

The first patient, a 75-year-old Singaporean woman with a history of chronic heart disease and hypertension, died at 7.52am.

She was admitted to the NCID on Feb 23 for pneumonia, and was the 90th person confirmed to have Covid-19.

She had been in the intensive care unit (ICU) and developed serious complications, and was linked to the cluster at The Life Church and Missions Singapore in Paya Lebar.

The second patient is a 64-year-old Indonesian national who was admitted in critical condition to the ICU at NCID on March 13, after arriving from Indonesia the same day. He was confirmed to have the infection the next day, and died at 10.15am yesterday.

Prior to his arrival, the patient - known as case 212 - had been hospitalised in Indonesia for pneumonia and had a history of heart disease.

"While we all know that there will be fatalities in Covid-19 patients, we are deeply saddened by their passing," Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said, announcing the deaths.

"I know Singaporeans will be worried and anxious. But we must take courage, and not give in to our fears," he added.

The fatalities come as Singapore confirmed 47 new coronavirus cases yesterday, bringing the total number of infected patients here to 432.

The new cases include 39 imported cases with travel history to Australia, Europe, North America, Asean and other parts of Asia, a surge observers had expected given the closure of borders around the world and the return of Singapore residents and long-term pass holders from overseas.

One of the new cases, case 415, is a 64-year-old Indonesian woman who was listed as a family member of case 212, the second patient who died. Three days ago, a 62-year-old Singaporean man, case 289, was also listed as a close contact of his.

Speaking to reporters at the Health Ministry yesterday, Mr Gan reiterated that safe distancing measures which have been announced must be followed.

"We must all take the necessary precautions to keep ourselves and our families safe," he said.

"We must stay united, work together, support one another, look out for one another. This way, by staying together, we will be able to prevail and overcome Covid-19."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also sent his deepest condolences to the patients' loved ones in a Facebook post, saying: "As we get more Covid-19 cases, more patients will need ICU care, and we must brace ourselves for more losses," he said.

Healthcare workers are doing their best to care for their patients, PM Lee added, noting that most of the cases are gradually improving.

"The Government is doing all we can to slow the spread of the virus, but everyone needs to support and comply with the measures we have put in place," he said. "We must work together to keep ourselves, our families and Singapore safe."

Besides strict border controls, rigorous contact tracing, quarantine and home isolation, the Government has implemented safe distancing measures such as smaller crowd sizes and the need to keep a safe space around individuals, especially vulnerable segments of the population such as the elderly.

For example, all events and gatherings with 250 or more participants are to be suspended until June 30, while the suspension of all social activities for seniors by government agencies will be extended for another two weeks until April 7.

Many religious groups have also suspended services, or implemented social distancing measures.

But the first day of tighter measures saw mixed responses as businesses and people tried to adapt.

President Halimah Yacob had a special reminder for the young, cautioning that while they may not fall as seriously ill, they could spread the infection to others who are more vulnerable.

The Public Service Division also announced that government agencies will introduce telecommuting where possible, and adopt measures such as staggered work hours and split shifts.

Overseas personal leave will not be approved across the public service unless on exceptional or compassionate reasons. Also, all social activities will be cancelled and other events involving over 250 people will be suspended.

Meanwhile, the Government Technology Agency said 500,000 people had downloaded a new contact tracing app a day after its launch, and thanked them for helping stem the spread of Covid-19.

The bluetooth-based app helps contact tracers get in touch with users quicker if they have unknowingly had close contact with someone who caught the disease.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 22, 2020, with the headline S'pore sees first two Covid-19 deaths. Subscribe