Year in Review 2020: Top 10 coronavirus-related searches

·Senior Reporter
·12-min read
Cabin crew wait for participants during a guided tour at the Singapore Airlines Training Centre in Singapore November 21, 2020. The airlines offered tours of its training centre and flight simulator experiences as part of a series of initiatives to try an re-engage customers who have not been able to travel due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.  REUTERS/Edgar Su
Cabin crew wait for participants during a guided tour at the Singapore Airlines Training Centre in Singapore on 21 November, 2020. (PHOTO: Reuters)

SINGAPORE — Dominating most part of this year’s headlines is – to no one’s surprise – the novel coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

Since the discovery of the virus a year ago, purportedly originating from a seafood market in the Chinese city of Wuhan, some 79 million people around the world have been infected. Globally, some 1.73 million have succumbed to the coronavirus disease.

Governments around the world have imposed strict social measures and country-wide lockdowns, leading to severe economic impact as well as worrying levels of unemployment.

Naturally, readers at Yahoo News Singapore have been preoccupied with finding more about the virus and its implications. Here are our top 10 COVID-19 related searches.

Migrant workers pray in their dormitory during the holy month of Ramadan, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Singapore May 8, 2020. Picture taken May 8, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Migrant workers pray in their dormitory during the holy month of Ramadan, amid the coronavirus disease outbreak, in Singapore on 8 May, 2020. (PHOTO: Reuters)

1. Singapore COVID-19

The virus first reached Singapore shores when its first COVID-19 case was confirmed on 23 January, a 66-year-old male Wuhan resident man who arrived from Guangzhou. A few days later on 4 February, the city-state announced its first cluster of local transmissions.

In mid-March, the government took the unprecedented step of shutting its borders to all short-term travellers. The closure was announced a day after the country recorded its first two fatalities from the virus and with its total infections rising past 430.

The authorities later in April faced the challenge of stemming a massive outbreak of the virus among migrant workers and had locked down all dormitories where they reside.

Of the 58,482 cases in Singapore as of Wednesday (23 December), 54,506 – some 93 per cent – are migrant workers living in dorms. Some 98,000 others have tested positive only on their serology tests, which means that almost half of the 323,000-strong migrant worker population were infected with the virus.

Only those who test positive for the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test are included in Singapore’s case count as per the World Health Organization’s (WHO) criteria.

Restrictions in Singapore have been gradually eased over the past few months, as the number of locally transmitted cases dwindled to one detected in a week.

On Wednesday, the city-state confirmed its first case infected with a new variant of the novel coronavirus that is spreading rapidly in the UK. Eleven others have tested preliminarily positive for the B.1.1.7 strain.

2. Coronavirus updates/news

3. Coronavirus worldometer

With COVID-19 impacting so many facets of life in 2020, it is no wonder that Yahoo News Singapore readers searched extensively for updates on the coronavirus – be it travel restrictions, government regulations on movements around the community, or simply the number of new cases every day.

Data collection site Worldometer tracks COVID-19 case numbers and deaths around the world, publishing them “live” as media and official reports come in.

The site has been largely accurate with its figures and is often cited in media reports about COVID-19. In terms of the number of cases, Singapore is ranked 86th in its list of 220 countries and territories.

At least one official has disputed the validity of its figures. According to a Straits Times report, senior Indonesian minister and close Jokowi aide Luhut Pandjaitan has said Worldometer’s testing rate per population measure is invalid for his country as Indonesia covers vast and remote geographical locations, being the world's largest archipelagic state with more than 18,000 islands.

4. Circuit breaker

The term circuit breaker was first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on 3 April during his third televised address on the pandemic. It was used to describe the group of month-long measures to take effect from 7 April, including the closing of most workplaces and the rolling out of full home-based learning.

“This is like a circuit breaker. It will help reduce the risk of a big outbreak occurring, and it should also help to gradually bring our numbers down,” said PM Lee.

Originally slated to end on 4 May, the circuit breaker period was later extended to 1 June with measures tightened in a bid to further curb the spread of the virus.

On 19 May, authorities announced a three-phase approach to reopen the country, with the gradual lifting of the circuit breaker measures.

In the first phase, which lasted from 2 to 18 June, Singapore resumed economic activities that do not pose a high risk of transmission while easing away some restrictions, such as allowing family members to visit their elderly loved ones.

In the second phase, retail businesses were allowed to reopen while dine-in services at food-and-beverage (F&B) outlets were allowed to resume, both with safety measures in place.

Phase 3 is due to begin on 28 December, with the further easing of measures, such as allowing groups of up to eight to gather, up from the current maximum of five, and increasing capacity limits for malls and attractions.

Cough, fever, shortness of breath (chest pain), tiredness, headache, diarrhea, stuffy runny nose, ache of muscle, sore throat, nausea/vomiting. Covid-19
(INFOGRAPHIC: Getty Images)

5. Coronavirus symptoms

According to the WHO, most infected people will develop mild to moderate illness, and recover without hospitalisation.

The most common symptoms include fever, dry cough, and tiredness. Less common symptoms include sore throat, diarrhoea, loss of taste or smell, as well as discolouration of fingers or toes. Serious symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain and loss of speech or movement.

In fact, many cases in Singapore are asymptomatic. “Based on our experience, for every symptomatic case you would have at least one asymptomatic case,” COVID-19 taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong said in June.

However, a small percentage of patients around the world have struggled with ongoing illness after being infected, or "long COVID", where symptoms appear in one physiological area, such as the heart or lungs, only to abate and then arise again in a different area.

Blood clots that can cause strokes, heart attacks, and dangerous blockages in the legs and lungs have also been found in COVID-19 patients, including some children.

“COVID-19 is the most thrombotic (clot-producing) disease we’ve ever seen in our lifetime,” said a clot specialist and professor at Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in the US.

European and American health authorities in June reported that hundreds of children have been afflicted with paediatric inflammatory multisystem syndrome (PIMS) associated with COVID-19.

The syndrome can cause multiple organ failure and shares symptoms with toxic shock and Kawasaki disease, a rare inflammation of the blood vessels that typically affects young children under the age of five.

(PHOTO: Newer and older TraceTogether devices from left to right. Vernon Lee/Yahoo News Singapore)
Newer (left) and older TraceTogether devices. (PHOTO: Vernon Lee/Yahoo News Singapore)

6. TraceTogether

Around 70 per cent of Singapore’s 5.7 million population have participated in the TraceTogether programme, which was set as one of the requirements for the city-state to move to Phase 3 of its reopening.

This means having the digital initiative’s app in a mobile device or collecting a token version. Authorities began distributing the latter nationwide in September.

Similar to the app, the token works by exchanging short-distance Bluetooth signals between other participating tokens or app users in close proximity, thus described as “community-driven contact tracing”. Both encrypt the data of nearby devices, and information older than 25 days will be deleted automatically.

Since August, TraceTogether has been trialled at selected venues where people are likely to be in close contact for long periods, or where human traffic is high.

Checking in with the TraceTogether app or token will be made mandatory at all public venues in Singapore early next year, having been pushed back from a December rollout.

This means that for now, members of the public can still check-in via SafeEntry by scanning QR codes with a phone camera, or with the SingPass mobile app, or using an NRIC. These would no longer be allowed once TraceTogether-only SafeEntry is rolled out.

The first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived on scheduled Singapore Airlines (SIA) Boeing 747-400 freighter SQ7979 on 21 December, 2020. (PHOTO: MCI)
The first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived on scheduled Singapore Airlines (SIA) Boeing 747-400 freighter SQ7979 on 21 December, 2020. (PHOTO: MCI)

7. Coronavirus vaccine

As of 16 December, more than 220 vaccines are currently being developed against the disease, with 56 in the clinical trial phase. Frontrunners in the race include those developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, and Oxford–AstraZeneca.

Pfizer-BioNTech’s and Moderna's vaccines – both touted to show over 94 per cent efficacy – are based on technology using synthetic versions of molecules called messenger RNA to hack into human cells, and effectively turn them into vaccine-making factories.

Singapore received its first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Monday evening (21 December), a week before the city-state is due to enter Phase 3 of its reopening. It is the first COVID-19 vaccine approved by the Health Sciences Authority here after a rollout in countries like the US and the UK.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine may be administered in Singapore as early as within the next two to three week, said Ministry of Health (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak during a press conference on 14 December.

Other vaccines are expected to arrive in Singapore in the coming months, including Moderna and Sinovac, with whom local authorities have signed advanced purchase agreements.

Singapore’s vaccination, which will occur in phases until end-2021, will be free for Singaporeans and long-term residents. While voluntary, authorities have strongly encouraged members of the public to get vaccinated.

Priority will be given to healthcare workers and front-line personnel, as well as the elderly and other vulnerable people.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will not be given to pregnant women, immunocompromised patients, and those under the age of 16 until more data are available.

PM Lee and other Cabinet members are set to get early shots to assure members of the public of its safety.

(INFOGRAPHIC of Dorscon Alert Levels: Ministry of Health)
(INFOGRAPHIC of Dorscon Alert Levels: Ministry of Health)

8. Dorscon alert levels

Authorities in Singapore had on 7 February raised the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorson) to “orange” from “yellow” amid a growing number of COVID-19 cases in the city-state.

The Dorscon system also takes into account the current disease situation overseas, how transmissible the disease is, how likely it is to arrive in Singapore, and what impact it may have on Singapore’s community.

Under Dorscon orange, a disease is considered to be severe and spreads easily from person to person, but the disease has not spread widely in Singapore and is contained. During the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2003, the Republic activated a similar alert level.

The announcement prompted Singaporeans to “panic buy” supplies over the following weekend.

In a televised address on 12 March, PM Lee categorically dismissed rumours that authorities had planned to move the Dorscon level up to “red”.

We are not going to Dorscon red. We are not locking down our city like the Chinese, South Koreans or Italians have done,” Lee had said then.

Dorscon red indicates a disease is severe and spreading widely, causing a significant number of deaths and major disruption to daily life.

As of publication, Singapore remains under Dorscon orange.

9. Stay-Home Hotice

Before there were Stay-Home Notices (SHNs), Singapore authorities had in end-January implemented a 14-day leave of absence for all travellers returning from mainland China – outside of Hubei province, home to Wuhan – who are Singapore residents or long-term pass holders.

Those on leaves of absence had to remain at their places of residence, but could leave home briefly to attend to matters, such as having their meals or to buy household supplies.

As cases mounted in China, authorities on 17 February announced a stricter SHN scheme, made mandatory for all travellers returning from mainland China outside of Hubei province.

Unlike leaves of absence, those on SHNs – which rolled out on 18 February – are not allowed to leave their homes or choice of residences at any time during the 14-day period.

The notice was then on 20 March expanded to include all travellers allowed to enter Singapore, due to the virus spreading rapidly around the world. It was further tightened five days later when authorities mandated that those returning from the US and the UK had to serve them at dedicated facilities, such as hotels. Those returning from the two countries had at that point in time account for the largest share of imported cases.

The SHN was subsequently expanded to include returnees from ASEAN countries, France, India, and Switzerland, and eventually to every traveller returning to Singapore from 9 April.

Currently, travellers entering Singapore from some countries such as Australia and Taiwan are exempted from having to serve the notice, provided they test negative for a swab test upon arrival. Those from Macau are allowed to serve shorter seven-day SHNs at their own accommodation.

During their SHNs, travellers will have to take COVID-19 swab tests. The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority will also conduct checks on them through house visits, calls or WhatsApp.

As of Wednesday, a total of 268,500 stay-home notices have been issued, with 16,600 currently active.

Corona virus close up
(PHOTO: Getty Images)

10. Coronavirus death toll

According to Worldometer, the US is leading the world with the highest number of fatalities at over 331,000, followed by Brazil and India.

US researchers have stated that the virus has emerged as the leading cause of death in the country, killing more than 3,000 Americans a day. This is “equivalent to the September 11, 2001, attacks, which claimed 2,988 lives, occurring every 1.5 days, or 15 Airbus 320 jetliners, each carrying 150 passengers, crashing every day”, they stated.

The high mortality rate in the US is a stark difference from that recorded in Singapore.

At 29 deaths and over 58,000 cases, Singapore has one of the lowest death rates at some 0.05 per cent, well below the global average of around 3 per cent, according to data compiled by Reuters from countries that have recorded more than 1,000 cases.

Comparatively, countries with population size similar to Singapore’s have recorded higher death rates: Denmark at about three per cent and Finland at some four per cent.

Separately, a total of 15 cases in Singapore who tested positive for the virus and have died from unrelated causes are not registered as part of the official tally, as per WHO's case definition for classifying COVID-19 deaths. These include three cases whose deaths were attributed to a heart attack and another four whose deaths were attributed to coronary heart disease.

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