Singapore earned early praise for its containment of COVID-19.
But on Tuesday it will go into total lockdown for one month, following a spike in cases that now puts the island city-state of just under six million people on a per capita par with Australia, both in coronavirus cases and deaths.
As many other countries start seeing signs of the coronavirus curve flattening, on Sunday Singapore posted its highest ever number of new cases in a single 24-hour period.
What went wrong?
Singapore has been aggressive in its testing – which is freely available to all residents – meticulous in its tracking down of contamination chains and quarantining procedures, and has maintained strict travel restrictions.
But a second wave of infections from returning residents, and local transmissions, has seen a tenfold increase in new cases in recent weeks.
Since the outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, became a pandemic, schools and businesses in Singapore have continued to remain open, with a public awareness campaign on social distancing considered highly successful.
Restaurants and bars were given the clear message that if they couldn’t adhere to social distancing rules, they would be locked down and run out of business.
‘It is sobering news, but we had expected this possibility.’
But with Singaporean cases jumping from less than 100 a month ago to more than 1,300 late last week, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong conceded the anti-COVID-19 spread measures hadn’t been enough, and a circuit breaker was now needed.
“It is sobering news, but we had expected this possibility,” he said in a Facebook post on Sunday.
The same day almost 20,000 male foreign workers in two migrant worker dormitories were placed into 14-day isolation after a sudden outbreak, The Straits Times reported.
Of the 120 new cases recorded in the past 24 hours, only four were imported, Singapore’s newspaper said.
The rest were locally transmitted cases among Singapore citizens, permanent residents, or long-term work pass holders.
From Tuesday, only businesses providing essential services such as health care, food and utilities, will operate for the next month.
Schools and universities will move to online learning-only on Wednesday.
Australian infectious control expert Professor Dale Fisher heads up the National University of Singapore’s infection control unit at the national hospital.
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The former head of Royal Darwin Hospital’s infectious diseases unit told India’s Times Now on Sunday that his adopted country’s move into lockdown might seem extreme, but it was necessary.
“If you can get away without doing it, then you are a lucky country,” he said.
“Singapore is an example of, yeah, we were doing well, our systems were in place.
“And it just got out of hand a little bit so we had to tighten the screws.”
How you can tell the difference between the coronavirus, the flu, a cold or seasonal allergies. Credit: Sam Aitken, 7NEWS.
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