Coronavirus: 3 new unlinked cases in S'pore including VJC teacher; total at 33

Wong Casandra
Senior Reporter
People undergo temperature checks at the entrance during the "Colours in Harmony" Chingay Parade at the F1 Pit Building on 31 January, 2020 in Singapore. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — Three new cases of the novel coronavirus with no links to previous cases or recent travel history to China were confirmed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Friday (7 February), including a female teacher from Victoria Junior College.

This brings the tally of such cases to four and the total overall to 33, the second-highest number outside mainland China behind Japan’s 86.

All three cases, announced during a press conference led by the multi-ministry taskforce for the virus on Friday, are Singaporeans.

They tested positive for the novel coronavirus, also known as 2019-nCoV, at about 11pm the previous day.

The 42-year-old female teacher at Victoria Junior College had reported onset of symptoms last Sunday (2 February) and was admitted to Parkway East Hospital three days later.

Yahoo News Singapore understands that she was transferred to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) on Friday morning.

Prior to her hospital admission, the Elias Road resident had visited Changi Airport and Singapore Zoo.

On the teacher’s activity in the college, Ministry of Education's director of schools Liew Wei Li said that she was last present in school on 31 January as she was on medical leave for her fever.

The woman did not interact with colleagues or students after her symptoms emerged.

As a precautionary move, “a few colleagues and students who have been in close contact with the teacher will be given 14 days of leave of absence since the last day of contact”, added Liew.

Detailing the school’s additional measures, Liew said that the college’s premises will be thoroughly disinfected, such as the staff room, pantry and the teaching rooms that the teacher was in.

Other steps include suspending the school’s co-curricular activities for two weeks and conducting classes in smaller sizes with students to sit in alternate seats in lecture halls.

Similar measures will be implemented in other schools if there are cases linked to them, added Liew.

Two new cases visited M’sia

The second new case is a 53-year-old man who visited Malaysia on 6, 11, and 17 January. He reported symptoms on 23 January and visited a general practitioner clinic on the same day.

The man visited another such clinic on 28 January and was admitted to the Changi General Hospital last Saturday, where he is currently warded in an isolation room.

The Singaporean, who resides at Tampines Street 24, had visited The Life Church and Missions Singapore at 146B Paya Lebar Road and had also visited family members and friends during the Chinese New Year.

The third case is a 39-year-old woman who visited Malaysia from 22 to 29 January.

The Singaporean reported developing symptoms on 30 January. She visited the emergency department at the Sengkang General Hospital last Sunday where she was admitted and is currently warded in an isolation room.

The three patients constitute four cases with no links to previous cases or recent travel history to China.

The first such case of its kind was announced on Thursday, a 41-year-old Singaporean man who had visited the Seletar clinic of Phoenix Medical Group twice, last Thursday and again on Monday. He is currently warded in an isolation room at the NCID.

The taskforce’s co-chair and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that investigations over the past two days into how the 41-year-old contracted the disease have been inconclusive.

Given the heightened risk, the taskforce on Friday raised Singapore’s Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) alert level from yellow to orange amid the increase in confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

It also announced a series of measures to be taken, including the suspension of inter-school and external activities for schools until the end of the March school holidays and advising event organisers to cancel or defer non-essential large-scale events.

“Despite our very best efforts to contain, ringfence and isolate each case that comes out...there is wider community spread,” said the taskforce’s co-chair and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

“And if so, as we have done already, we will have to reassess the situation; if the situation worsens, and we may well have to take more stringent measures beyond what we are announcing today.”

More details on S’porean linked to Grand Hyatt meeting

The ministry also provided more details about the case of a 27-year-old man who was announced on Thursday. The Singaporean, who is currently warded at an isolation room at the NCID, tested positive for the virus on the same day at about 2pm.

He had reported the onset of fever on 21 January and visited a general practitioner clinic a week later. He later sought treatment at another GP clinic on Monday.

Prior to his hospital admission, the Shunfu Road resident had gone to Far East Square at 19 China Street and Junction 8 at 9 Bishan Place.

The man was one of 109 staff from an as-yet-unnamed multinational sales firm to attend a private business meeting held at Grand Hyatt Singapore from 20 to 22 January.

Ninety-four foreign participants, including a Chinese delegate from Wuhan where the virus originated, have since left Singapore. Authorities here are currently unable to provide a full list of countries where they are from as well as their statuses.

The man is also one of at least six cases – five participants from the UK, Malaysia, and South Korea as well as one of their siblings – linked to the meeting.

The original source of these cases has not yet been identified, said Assoc Prof Kenneth Mak, MOH director of medical services, in response to questions fielded by reporters.

He also declined to reveal the company’s name, citing ongoing investigations, but reports have identified the event’s organiser as Servomex, a firm founded in the UK in 1952 with offices in several countries.

The spate of cases has prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to begin an investigation into the situation.

The WHO said the cases provide more evidence that the coronavirus is spreading through human-to-human contact outside China, which it called deeply concerning and could signal a much larger outbreak.

Two discharged, another two in critical condition

One previously confirmed case, a 53-year-old female Wuhan resident, was confirmed by Prof Mak to have been discharged on Friday, joining a 35-year-old male compatriot who was discharged on Tuesday.

Most of the remaining 31 patients, including a six-month-old Singaporean male infant, are stable or improving.

However, two patients are currently in critical condition in the intensive care unit and both require support to help them with their breathing, Prof Mak said.

Another patient is warded in a high dependency unit, while several require “some level of oxygen support”, he added.

When pressed on the identity of the two cases in critical condition, Prof Mak declined to provide more details, citing patient confidentiality, but noted that both do not have “significant health issues”.

(INFOGRAPHIC: Ministry of Health)

Local cluster of seven cases linked to Guangxi tourists 

Authorities had announced the first cluster of four locally transmitted cases on Tuesday, including a 28-year-old female Singapore permanent resident and her colleague, a 48-year-old Singaporean woman.

The pair work at Yong Thai Heng, a health products shop in Cavan Road popular with Chinese tourists. The third case is a 32-year-old Singaporean tour guide who brought Chinese tourist groups to the shop.

The trio had close contact with a group of 20 travellers from Guangxi, of whom at least two have been confirmed to be infected with the virus. The fourth case confirmed on Tuesday was the 28-year-old woman's Indonesian foreign domestic maid.

The woman's six-month-old son – currently the youngest confirmed case here – and her husband, a 45-year-old Singaporean man, were amongst three additional cases linked to the cluster announced the following day.

Prior to being admitted to the NCID, her husband stayed at their home at Jalan Bukit Merah and worked as a private hire driver. He indicated that he had visited Tiong Bahru Plaza, Tiong Bahru Market, and Beo Crescent Market and Food Centre.

The couple’s infant was cared for at home and was not in any infant care facility before he was hospitalised at an isolation room the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

The husband of the tour guide, a 40-year-old Singaporean man, was the third such case announced on the same day.

He reported developing a fever on 24 January and visited Hougang Polyclinic with his wife last Thursday. She also visited a supermarket near their home at Buangkok Green.

Subsequently, the man visited the NCID on Monday, where he was immediately isolated and is currently warded.

Prior to his hospital admission, the Singaporean stayed at home and worked at Diamond Industries Jewellery Company at Harbour Drive which was visited by the same tour group from Guangxi.

He indicated that he had visited Pasir Panjang Hawker Centre and travelled by public transport.

All seven cases of local transmissions have not travelled to China recently.

The tourists from Guangxi were in Singapore from 22 to 23 January, re-entered the country from Malaysia at 3am on 27 January and departed Changi Airport at 6am.

Besides Yong Thai Hang and Diamond Industries Jewellery Company, the group also visited Meeting You Restaurant at 14 Hamilton Road, Royal Dragon Restaurant at 2 Havelock Road, T Galleria by DFS at 25 Scotts Road and D’Resort @ Downtown East at 1 Pasir Ris Close.

The ministry has reached out to 142 contacts and said that all but one are well. The individual has been isolated as a suspect case and test results are pending.

Contact tracing of the crew and passengers of the departing flight on 27 January was also conducted – five still in Singapore have been quarantined.

The novel strain belongs to the same family of coronaviruses as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which killed nearly 800 people globally during a 2002-2003 outbreak and also started in China.

The coronavirus – which has been declared a global emergency by the WHO last week – has spread to 27 territories beyond mainland China, sickening over 31,000 people worldwide.

China's death toll from the epidemic soared to 636 on Friday, exceeding the 349 mainland fatalities from the SARS outbreak.

Two territories, Hong Kong and the Philippines, have each reported the death of a patient from the virus.

(INFOGRAPHIC: Yahoo News Singapore)

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