Outbreaks In Other Asian Countries Also Due To B1617 Variant, Virus Breached Our Safe Measures: MOH

Singapore’s community cases have been rising worryingly, which prompted the Government to introduce tighter restrictions on gatherings and dining out.

Of particular concern are 2 big clusters related to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and Changi Airport, as well as several unlinked cases reported daily.

Some of the cases in these clusters happen to be of the B1617 variant – dubbed by the World Health Organisation as a “variant of interest” and thought to be responsible for the ongoing deadly surge in India.

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Possibly in response to public concern over the B1617 variant, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has explained that it’s not just Singapore that has been having a problem with it.

It’s global concern, and no country can seal itself off totally, the ministry added.

B1617 of global concern by WHO: MOH

As Singapore was awaiting details on the 19 new community cases announced earlier on Saturday (15 May), MOH made a Facebook post.

The ministry said the B1617 variant, which is prevalent in South Asia, has been deemed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as a “variant of global concern”.

That means it’s a problem not just in Singapore, but the whole world.

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That also means it’s fuelling rising Covid-19 transmission in Asia.

In fact, it’s a “major reason” for the faster spread in Malaysia, Thailand and Japan.

Even Taiwan & Vietnam not spared

Thus, MOH said Singapore isn’t the only country affected by B1617.

The variant is causing outbreaks of community cases even in regions that used to be safe like Taiwan and Vietnam.

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All these cases originated from imports, the ministry added.

Citizens & PRs must be allowed to return: MOH

Apparently, it’s difficult to stop cases from coming into the country, as MOH said “borders are porous”.

The ministry also declared,

No country can seal itself off totally.

Even if borders are shut, citizens and permanent residents (PRs) of a country must be allowed to return home, MOH added.

What we can do is subject every arrival to stringent measures like Stay-Home Notice (SHN) and testing.

Virus makes no distinction between citizen or short-term visitor: MOH

Despite all these strict measures, the virus managed to breach our defences anyway, MOH said.

This includes those at Changi Airport, which led to community cases.

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However, the virus makes no distinction between a Singaporean, PR, work pass holder of short-term visitor, MOH said.

Thus, any of them can bring the virus to our shores as an imported case.

MOH outlines conditions for entry of short-term visitors

As for short-term visitors, MOH outlined the conditions they’re allowed to enter.

They’ve allowed to enter only if:

  1. They have family ties in Singapore
  2. Compassionate grounds, e.g.
    • to attend a funeral
    • to seek medical treatment

Breakdown of imported cases

Apparently, the media has been asking MOH about the number of imported cases who were short-term visitors, a press statement said.

In reply, MOH revealed the numbers over the last 28 days from 16 Apr to 13 May.

Imported cases in total during this period: 409

They comprised:

  • Singaporeans/PRs: 41.6%
  • Work pass holders, student pass holders or dependents: 50.6%
  • Short-term visitors: 7.8%

Imported cases from South Asia during this period: 271, or 66.3% of the total.

They comprised:

  • Singaporeans/PRs: 50.2%
  • Work pass holders, student pass holders or dependents: 46.5%
  • Short-term visitors: 3.3%

Thus, MOH concluded, the virus can come in via anybody arriving in Singapore, and that’s the challenge that all countries face.

That’s because “no one can entirely close their borders”, the ministry re-emphasised.

Singapore has 4th-highest number of B1617 cases in the world

MOH’s clarification came after the release of a Guardian article on Friday (14 May).

It provided a round-up of the countries in the world with the highest rates of the variant from India.

The Guardian ranked Singapore No. 4 out of the countries with the highest numbers of B1617, behind India itself, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US).

We have recorded 156 cases of the B1617 variant, it said.

Singapore had 93 cases of B1617 in last 4 weeks: GISAID

The Guardian’s figures came from the GISAID Initiative, a global science source that provides genomic data of viruses.

Its latest tally of reported B1617 variant cases put Singapore at No. 4.

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We had 93 cases in the past 4 weeks out of 156 in total, it reported.

A global problem that’s also affecting Singapore

The B1617 variant is indeed a global problem that has unfortunately found its way to Singapore too.

While it’s true the the virus doesn’t discriminate, some may prefer for Singapore to do so – by sealing the borders not totally, but to certain travellers for the time being, for the sake of community health.

We’ve since banned entry and stopped work pass applications for visitors from higher-risk countries, but some may also ask: Should we have done so earlier?

And since MOH has now clarified the reasons why short-term visitors can enter the country, do you think they’re sufficient to cut down the number of imported cases? Do share your thoughts with us.

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Featured image adapted from Grace Lim @ Unsplash.