Singapore confirms first case with more contagious UK COVID-19 strain

Corona virus close up
(PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — Singapore confirmed its first case infected with a new variant of the novel coronavirus that is spreading rapidly in the UK on Wednesday (23 December), as well as 11 others who have tested preliminarily positive for the strain.

The case is a 17-year-old Singaporean girl who had been studying in the UK from August, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a press release.

She had returned to Singapore on 6 December and served a stay-home notice at a dedicated facility upon her arrival.

The teenager developed a fever the next day, and was confirmed to have COVID-19 on 8 December, and she was included in the case count on the same day.

All her close contacts had been quarantined and had tested negative for COVID-19 at the end of their quarantine.

As the case had been isolated upon her arrival here, the authorities were able to ringfence this case so that there was no further transmission arising from her, said the MOH.

The ministry added that there is currently no evidence that the B.1.1.7 strain is circulating in the community.

31 cases from Europe being tested for strain

In light of the new B.1.1.7 strain, the National Public Health Laboratory is performing viral genomic sequencing for 31 COVID-19 cases who had arrived from Europe recently. These cases had arrived in Singapore between 17 November and 17 December and were confirmed to be infected in December.

Amongst them, 12 were not infected with the B.1.1.7 strain, and one, the 17-year-old girl, was found to carry the strain.

Five other samples cannot be sequenced due to their low viral load and confirmatory results for the 11 cases who have tested preliminarily positive for the B.1.1.7 strain are pending, said the MOH.

Two cases have not been tested so far.

All 31 cases had been placed on 14-day stay-home notice at dedicated facilities or isolated upon arrival in Singapore, and their close contacts had been quarantined earlier.

The B.1.1.7 variant, while not the first of the virus to emerge, is said to be up to 70 per cent more transmissible than the previously dominant strain in the UK.

It has acquired a relatively high number of 23 mutations in its genetic code and some of these looked as if they could potentially affect the virus’s ability to spread.

The strain has been detected in Australia, Italy, and the Netherlands. It was identified in the Netherlands in early December.

Countries around the world, including Singapore, have banned flights and travellers from the UK as a precautionary measure to reduce the risk of spread of the variant.

On Tuesday, Singapore’s COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce announced that from 11.59pm on Wednesday, all long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with recent travel history to the UK within the last 14 days will not be allowed entry into Singapore, or transit through Singapore.

Returning Singaporeans and permanent residents will be required to undergo a COVID-19 PCR test upon their arrival in Singapore, at the start of their 14-day notice.

A total of 21 new COVID-19 cases – all imported – were detected in Singapore on Wednesday, taking the country’s total case count to 58,482.

The city-state is due to enter Phase 3 of reopening on 28 December.

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