COVID-19: Expect rise in cases when circuit breaker ends – Lawrence Wong

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong in Parliament on 25 March, 2020. (PHOTO: Parliament screencap)

SINGAPORE – Singaporeans must expect a rise in cases when the circuit breaker lifts, and economic and social activities resume.

And “it’s not because of the clusters among the migrant workers which are contained in the dormitories and under control”, said Lawrence Wong, Minister for National Development and co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce.

In a Facebook post on Monday (25 May) outlining his thoughts on why the country must ease the circuit breaker cautiously, he said that the fact is that there are still hidden cases circulating among the general population. “For example, when we did a test of around 16,000 pre-school teachers recently, we detected eight cases. There are bound to be other undetected asymptomatic cases in the community. That's why we have to move cautiously,” he said.

It was announced on 19 May that Singapore would exit its partial lockdown in phases, starting with Phase 1 which is expected to last four to six weeks from 2 June. Under this phase, people will need to continue to stay at home, leaving only for essential activities and should wear a mask when doing so. Majority of employees will also continue to work from home, with children heading back to school in a calibrated manner.

Wong pointed out that although Singapore has now managed to bring down the number of new community cases, “we have not eradicated the virus... no country has done so, even with the tightest of lockdowns”.

“All the countries that have beaten the virus to low levels have seen a rebound in cases when they resumed activities – more when they resumed precipitously; less when they proceeded cautiously.”

He shared that in deciding which businesses or activities can resume first, tough decisions had to be made. “For example, if we permit physiotherapy, should we also allow spas and massage centres? We would have liked to say ‘yes’ to all the requests,” Wong said. “But each time we ease up on something, we introduce many more face-to-face contacts and people movement within the community. That in turn means higher transmission risks and the likelihood of more infections.”

Explaining that a phased re-opening – coupled with pro-active testing of different segments of the population – will allow the government to have a better control of the situation, he said, “If all goes well, then we will move to the next phase around the end of June, and resume more activities then.”

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