Singapore gets first cases of local coronavirus transmission
Precautionary measures enhanced after four women who had not travelled to China are infected by virus
In Singapore's first cases of local transmission, four women have been infected by the coronavirus without having travelled to China.
The four cases, which constitute a local transmission cluster, were among six new confirmed cases announced by the Health Ministry (MOH) yesterday after a two-day lull when no new case was reported.
The cluster is related to Yong Thai Hang, a Chinese health product shop at Cavan Road in Lavender that caters largely to Chinese tour groups.
Two of the four patients - a 28-year-old permanent resident and a 48-year-old Singaporean - work in the shop.
The younger woman developed a sore throat and fever last Wednesday and went to Tan Tock Seng Hospital the next day.
After testing negative for pneumonia, she was discharged and remained at her Bukit Merah home until Monday when she sought treatment at Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
She was diagnosed with pneumonia and was immediately isolated. Her infection was confirmed after 11pm the same day.
Her older colleague, who felt symptoms on Jan 25, went to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) on Monday, where she was isolated and found to be infected yesterday morning.
The other two are a 44-year-old Indonesian, who is a domestic worker for the 28-year-old woman, and a 32-year-old Singaporean tour guide who took tour groups to Yong Thai Hang.
The tour groups have since left Singapore. It is understood at least two among them have the virus.
The maid is warded in SGH and the tour guide in NCID. Their infections were confirmed yesterday.
MOH said the four cases constitute "limited local transmission". Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said at a press conference: "There is, however, no evidence of widespread community transmission."
He added that cases of limited community transmission are not unexpected.
"This is a scenario that we have prepared for and we are ready to handle," he said.
Mr Gan added that there is as yet no evidence of widespread sustained community transmission that involves the inability to identify where patients caught the infections.
Singapore has also put up multiple lines of defence against the coronavirus.
But Mr Gan, who co-heads a multi-ministry task force set up to fight the virus, cautioned that "despite our best efforts, Singapore could still see extensive community spread".
"At that point, we will need to consider measures to reduce human-to-human interaction such as cancelling mass gatherings, suspending schools, paring down non-essential care services and introducing further infection control and monitoring measures to slow the spread."
The authorities said they are contacting people with similar profiles to the patients in the local transmission cases who have had recent close contact with those who have a travel history to China.
The other new cases yesterday are two Singaporeans who were among the 92 evacuated from Wuhan on Jan 30 on a Scoot flight.
When the group was put under quarantine upon arriving home, the two did not have any symptoms.
But they tested positive on Monday despite continuing to show no symptoms. They are now warded in isolation rooms at NCID.
Two other Singaporeans on the flight were confirmed to be infected on Jan 31.
As a precaution, all patients with pneumonia at public hospitals have been tested for the virus since last week, said MOH. About 500 to 600 patients with pneumonia will need to be tested every week.
In the light of local transmission, precautionary measures have been enhanced in schools and eldercare facilities to protect the young and vulnerable.
Singapore is also carrying out contact tracing in a case where a Malaysian became infected while he was here last month for a business meeting that involved Chinese nationals.
With the six new infections, there are now 24 confirmed cases here.
Singapore also had its first confirmed case of recovery yesterday after a 35-year-old Wuhan resident was discharged from NCID, comprehensively testing negative for the virus.
Mr Gan urged Singaporeans to remain calm and play their part by adopting good hygiene practices.
"We are closely monitoring the situation and stand ready to ramp up our measures if necessary," he said. "We will spare no effort to protect our people. Let us work together to contain the spread of the virus and to keep one another safe."