SINGAPORE – Singapore is facing the largest local outbreak of Covid-19 infection in months. However, according to Dale Fisher, chairman of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, the situation could improve in the coming weeks.
“We believe we can break the transmission chains,” he told CNBC’s Street Signs Asia on Wednesday.
“With quite a sophisticated and thorough contact tracing, along with quarantining the contacts and isolating the cases, I would have confidence that the situation will improve in the next few weeks,” said Fisher, who is also a professor at Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine at the National University of Singapore.
Singapore’s new cases in the community rose from 11 the week before to 64 in the past week, the Ministry of Health announced on Tuesday.
The country’s multi-ministry task force announced Tuesday that stricter restrictions would be in place from May 8-30. The Straits Times index fell 1.04% on Wednesday afternoon.
Variants in the community
Authorities also said the “double mutant” variant of Covid – first detected in India – was found among locally transmitted cases. This B.1.617 strain is believed in part to be to blame for India’s rising caseload, which has marginalized its healthcare system as hospitals run out of beds and oxygen.
Fisher said it was difficult to determine how much of an impact each variant can have on how the virus is transmitted.
While there is “good evidence” that many variants “increased portability”, this is not the only factor.
“It’s also about all of the different measures that are in place and actually those measures work. It’s just … this version of the virus is less forgiving of violations,” he said.
It’s about shutting down clusters, stopping transmission chains and living with (the virus) instead of having a … blunt shutdown.
Professor at the National University of Singapore.
He noted that some cases were confirmed after the 14-day quarantine was completed. Singapore has extended the quarantine period for travelers from higher risk countries to 21 days.
However, it’s not clear whether the incubation period is longer for variants of the virus, said Fisher, who added that there may also be false negative Covid test results – meaning that a person is actually sick with the disease but the test does indicate that she is not infected.
“Trust” in Singapore
Still, he said he has “a lot of confidence” in Singapore’s systems and believes the country is taking the right approach by not going into lockdown.
“It’s about shutting down clusters, stopping chains of transmission and living with (the virus) instead of having a … blunt shutdown,” he said. “We are aware of the social and economic consequences.”
On vaccinations, Fisher said Singapore likely leads the rest of Asia in terms of the proportion of its population that received at least one shot. “I think we’re getting there steadily,” he said. “Very high levels of nationwide vaccination are expected by October.”
As of April 18, more than 2.2 million doses of the vaccine had been administered in Singapore, the ministry said. The country reported 16 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total to 61,268.