This article was updated on 5th August.
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Suspected cases started in Singapore from early January but the first confirmed case was not until 23rd January when a tourist from Wuhan tested positive. A further 12 Chinese tourists were confirmed as testing positive during the rest of January with the first Singaporean, who had returned from Wuhan, confirmed on 31st January. Flights through Singapore from China during China were instrumental in spreading the virus to a number of other countries including Malaysia.
These infections started to result in a number of local clusters emerging in February, many of which were popular with Chinese tourists.
Singapore has recorded 27 deaths from 57,749 confirmed cases (2nd October). They have reported that 47,454 have recovered. The latest statistics are available on our COVID-19 and South East Asia page.
The Response from Singapore
The Singaporean Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) raised its level from Yellow to Orange on 7th February after a spate of increasing cases including the first with unclear origins.
Singapore was held up as a shining light in their response the pandemic with the World Health Organisation (WHO) praising their contact tracing app, enabling cases and contacts to be isolated quickly resulting in less than 600 cases being recorded by the end of March and avoiding a full lockdown.
Things went wrong in April however when cases increased to more than 17,000 and the country entered a full lockdown. The main culprit were the crowded accommodation used to house the thousands of cheap, migrant workers used especially within the construction industry.
On 7th April the Singapore Circuit Breaker was introduced which enforced a national partial lockdown which closed all non-essential workplaces and encouraging the use of facemasks. The compulsory use of facemasks outside of the home was implemented on 14th April with fines and prosecution in place for non-compliance.
The measures were extended to 1st June and tightened further on 21st April, reducing the number of essential services allowed to open and restricting entry to some areas. Some measures were relaxed on 2nd May to prepare for the “Safe Re-opening” plan including some face to face schooling and extending the list of essential services.
Phase 1 of the Singapore “Safe Re-opening” plan started on 2nd June with the re-opening of some businesses but encouraging wherever possible to work from home. Essential services including hairdressers, basic pet services and air conditioning servicing were allowed to open. Households (up to 2 people) could start to visit parents or grandparents or utilise them for childcare. Marriages and funerals resumed with limited numbers. Schools started to re-open with limited numbers and focused on key years.
Singapore introduced the “Safe Entry” app that could be downloaded onto a smartphone and automatically record location to enable contact tracing to take place more easily. The app did raise privacy issues for some people and also had issues running on iPhones where it resulted in excessive battery usage. More than 2 million people are reported to have downloaded the app.
“TraceTogether” tokens, a wearable device complementing the “Safe Entry” app. The tokens record time and location in a similar way to the app. The token has received public opposition amid claims of a growth in a surveillance state and the fear that in the future use of these types of devices will become compulsory.
The Current Situation
Singapore is currently in its Phase 2 of its response to Covid-19, “Safe Transition” which started on 19th June. Most businesses were allowed to resume although with safe management measures being in place. Small group gatherings are now permitted with up to 5 people being able to gather outside, maintaining a 1 metre distancing. Schools have fully re-opened although some Higher Learning establishments will be re-opening in a phased approach.
The majority of shops and restaurants are now open but everyone must record their visit by either using the “Safe Entry” app on their phones or manually signing in on entry. Speaking is prohibited on public transport.
Facemasks are compulsory for everyone, over the age of 2 years, when outside of their home unless they are eating or taking part in strenuous exercise.
Phase 3 of the plan ” Safe Nation” may not start for a considerable time and will involve the resumption of social, cultural, religious and business gatherings and events, although with reduced numbers and the return to a more normal life for seniors currently still under lockdown.
The British government currently advises against all but essential travel to Singapore.
Malaysia and Singapore will begin allowing limited cross-border travel between the two countries from 17th August. Prior to the lockdown more than 300,000 people would cross the border each day.
Two new schemes will allow limited travel between the two countries. The Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) allows up to 14 days stay for essential business and official purposes. The Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) allows residents of both countries who hold valid work passes to travel between the countries.
There will be strict health and visa requirements including pre-departure COVID-19 tests and self-quarantine.
Singapore has introduced a number stimulus packages to help the economy. On 18th February S$6.4 billion (>£3.75 billion) was promised to support the transport and tourism industries and employees and the healthcare sector.
On 26th March a second package was introduced to support businesses, workers and families that amounted to an additional S$48.4 billion (>£28.4 billion).
Another S$5.1 billion (almost £3 billion) was allocated in April and S$45 billion (£26.4 billion) more in May.
In our next article we will look at the response in the Philippines.
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Do you have any experience of how Singapore or other South-East Asian countries reacted to Covid-19 or where you in country at the time of the outbreak. Let us know your thoughts and experiences.
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