VIRUS OUTBREAK

Task force expects rise in Covid-19 cases; testing being stepped up

Singapore

THE number of Covid-19 infections will likely rise from next week, as Singapore enters week two of Phase Two of Singapore's reopening, said the Covid-19 multi-ministry taskforce on Thursday, adding that community testing efforts have been, and will continue to be expanded.

Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong, who co-chairs the taskforce, said: "We know that currently, there are underlying cases, undetected cases ... You're likely to see cases coming up one or two weeks after the opening..."

But, it is important to look at the "nature" of these cases instead of the absolute number, he said.

Trends the taskforce are looking out for include large clusters, super-spreading events that could have a multiplying effect, and a sudden spike resulting in a large number of cases even though they are not related to a cluster.

Singapore has already ramped up its testing capabilities. Between 11,000 and 12,000 tests are conducted on a daily basis; this figure has even hit 14,000 tests on certain days, depending on the testing strategy, said the director of medical services in the Ministry of Health (MOH), Associate Professor Kenneth Mak.

"Over the last few weeks, we've been expanding the community-based testing regime to include seniors, students and staff who work in the schools," he noted.

From July 1, all individuals aged 13 and above who are diagnosed with acute respiratory infection (ARI) will be tested for Covid-19.

This is an expansion from the current strategy to test only individuals aged 45 and up who have been diagnosed with ARI.

"We have plans to test target groups, such as frontline staff interacting with travellers as we reopen our borders, and those living in communal facilities and shelters," added MOH in a statement. Relevant sectors will be engaged and consulted on the testing.

The taskforce was also asked if it would relook its green-lane travel arrangements with countries such as China and South Korea, which have been hit by fresh outbreaks of the virus.

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said: "Our broad assessment is that if the infection situation in that country broadly remains under control and the flare-up of cases is not overwhelming their hospital systems - yes, there are new cases but they are still able to do effective contact tracing to contain the cases and to prevent further spread - then it's not something that will stop us from continuing with the green- or fast-lane arrangements that we have worked out with these countries."

He added that these arrangements come with their own safety protocols. These include testing travellers during departure and arrival, controlling their itinerary and requiring them to serve a quarantine period.

Separately, he reminded businesses here to take safe-management measures seriously or face the consequences, including the shutting down of operations.

He noted that there are some businesses who might be trying to get around the rules and warned that "you can be sure that at some point in time, someone will report the lapses that they see at your business premises".

The Ministry of Manpower said on Thursday night that it revoked 140 work passes between May 1 and June 25 due to their holders breaching circuit-breaker measures, stay-home notices (SHN) or quarantine orders (QO).

The majority (98 work-pass holders) were caught breaching circuit-breaker measures. These took place in locations such as dormitories, private residential areas, East Coast Park and Robertson Quay.

The number includes the six work pass holders who were found guilty on June 25 for breaching circuit-breaker measures by gathering near Robertson Quay when social gatherings were prohibited.

Another 42 individuals breached their SHN or QO.

In addition to having their work passes revoked, these individuals have also been permanently banned from working in Singapore.

Separately, about 120,000 migrant workers have either recovered or been tested to be Covid-free. Among them, 80,000 are able to resume work; the rest are awaiting transfer to appropriate accommodations before they start work.

Mr Wong said 70 to 80 per cent of the workers are expected to be Covid-free by the end of July.

There are currently 320,000 people living in dormitories, said Mr Wong; about 40 per cent of workers have been cleared so far.

"Hopefully, a few weeks beyond that in August, we will be able to clear all the workers in the dormitories."

A total of 113 new Covid-19 infections were reported as of noon on Thursday, including five cases in the community.

Of the new community cases, one is a Singaporean and four are workpass holders.

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