COVID-19: 271 imported cases from S Asia over past 28 days, B1617 variant a global problem – MOH

Travellers wait in the departure hall of Changi International Airport in Singapore on March 15, 2021. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP) (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Travellers wait in the departure hall of Changi International Airport on 15 March 2021. (PHOTO/AFP via Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — The number of imported cases from South Asia over the past 28 days was 271, with half of them being Singaporeans or permanent residents, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Saturday (15 May).

Of the 271 cases, 50.2 per cent were Singaporeans or PRs, 46.5 per cent work pass holders, student pass holders or dependents and 3.3 per cent short term visitors.

Flagging the challenge of the B1617 variant of COVID-19 prevalent in South Asia, MOH said the strain is not just a Singapore problem but a global one, as highlighted by the World Health Organisation.

In its response to media queries on the number of imported cases who were short term visitors, MOH did not specify the number of imported cases from South Asia over the past 28 days that were linked to the variant.

Europe has sequenced almost 2,000 B1617 infections, US 486, Australia 85, Japan 29 and China 17, according to the Gisaid Institute, the world's largest database of novel coronavirus genome sequences.

In its latest report based on submissions from Singapore's researchers on 28 April, Gisaid reported a total of 156 cases of the Indian variants in Singapore over the past four weeks. MOH previously reported a total of 131 cases of the Indian variants – B.1.617 and B.1.617.1-3 – detected in Singapore as of 3 May.

“This is a major reason why transmission is rising throughout Asia — in Malaysia, Thailand, Japan.Even hitherto safe regions, such as Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam, are experiencing outbreaks of community cases,” MOH said.

These cases are imported because all borders are porous, according to MOH. “All it takes is one case to cause an outbreak, and no country can seal itself off totally,” it said.

For imported cases in Singapore, MOH reported 409 cases over 28 days from 16 April to 13 May. About 41.6 per cent of them were Singaporeans or PRs, 50.6 per cent were work pass holders, student pass holders or dependents, and 7.8 per cent were short term visitors.

“At the minimum, citizens and residents must be allowed to return home....All short term visitors are allowed to enter only if they have family ties here, or on specific compassionate grounds such as to attend a funeral, or seek medical treatment,” MOH said.

Every arrival is subject to stringent Stay-Home-Notice and tests. Community transmission has occurred because the virus breached Singapore’s safe measures, including at Changi Airport, MOH said.

“The infiltrating virus can be from SC/PR/work pass holders or a short term visitor. This is a challenge faced by all countries because no one can entirely close their borders,” it added.

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