Thursday, 26 March 2020

Government provides update in Parliament on Singapore's response to COVID-19

Coronavirus cases set to rise as more overseas Singaporeans return home

38,000 people on stay-home notice, figure will rise with more returnees

Ministerial Statements by Gan Kim Yong and Lawrence Wong outline strategy to curb spread of virus and urge all to adjust and do their part
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent and Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2020

The number of coronavirus cases will continue to rise in the coming weeks as some of the 200,000 overseas Singaporeans return home, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Parliament yesterday.

Singapore has to plan on the basis that COVID-19 will be around for a long while, and people have to make adjustments and do their part to contain the outbreak, he added.

He and his colleague, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong - who was overcome with emotion while acknowledging the contributions of staff on the front lines - outlined the strategy to counter the outbreak.

The number of patients has more than doubled in the past week, from 266 to 558 on Tuesday. Said Mr Gan, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the outbreak: "Almost 80 per cent of these new cases were imported, all from countries other than China, even though we continued to see around 1,000 residents and long-term pass holders return from China in the past week."

The United Kingdom, the United States and Indonesia are the top three sources of imported cases.

Last night, the Ministry of Health announced a record 73 new cases, bringing the total to 631. Of the new cases, 38 were imported, and 27 linked to a cluster or previous cases.

As of yesterday, there have been more than 436,000 COVID-19 cases worldwide and over 19,600 deaths from the disease.

Mr Gan said Singapore has slowed the spread of COVID-19 by reducing importation, detecting and isolating cases early, and emphasising social responsibility and good personal hygiene habits.

All short-term visitors, including tourists, have been barred from entering or transiting since Tuesday, and Singaporeans have been advised to defer all travel until the global situation is under control. Border checks have also been strengthened to detect and isolate cases before they come into contact with the wider community.

Mr Gan noted that Singapore has also done around 39,000 tests for COVID-19 to date. This translates to 6,800 tests per million people here, compared with around 6,500 in South Korea and 1,000 in Taiwan.

These tests are key in detecting as many cases as possible and as early as possible, he said.

He noted that the World Health Organisation has said that the course of the pandemic can still be changed if all countries take the necessary containment actions.

"Otherwise, we will continue to see the number of affected countries and cases rise rapidly," he said.

Mr Wong, the multi-ministry task force co-chair, updated the House on border controls and other efforts to fight COVID-19.

Mr Wong noted that the number of cases globally was doubling every four to six days, and measures had to be rapidly updated to adjust.

Importantly, Singapore wants to focus its resources on the large numbers of citizens returning home amid lockdowns globally, he said.

About 1,200 Singaporeans return from the UK and US every day. There are now 38,000 people serving stay-home notices (SHNs), and their numbers will rise, he said.

Besides identifying those with symptoms at the airport, the Government is ramping up its capacity to test as many as possible.

But someone who tested negative at the point of entry may simply be incubating the virus, he said.

This is why it is key to isolate returnees, who must serve a 14-day SHN requiring them to remain in their residence, and avoid contact with others in the same household.

He noted that monitoring and enforcing these notices is a "huge operational and logistical undertaking", but the Government intends to continue with tough enforcement.

The rising number of locally transmitted cases, especially ones unlinked to earlier cases, also calls for a "whole range of additional public health measures to slow down the spread of the virus", said Mr Wong.

These include limiting gatherings outside of work and school to 10 people or fewer, suspending entertainment and religious gatherings, and imposing restrictions on malls and others for at least a month.

He noted these will be disruptive, saying it was a reality all countries face. "The more we try to stop or slow down the virus, the steeper the damage on our economies. We have to do what is necessary from the public health point of view first - to save lives, slow down the virus - and thereafter do our best to manage the economic consequences."

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat will announce measures to help businesses and households in Parliament this afternoon.

Meanwhile, Mr Wong urged people to minimise non-essential activities and contact with others, saying Singapore is at a critical phase in the fight against the coronavirus.

Mr Wong teared up as he thanked the many front-line workers, from cleaners to those who cared for patients, calling them unsung heroes.

"We are only at the beginning of a very long fight," he said. "Let us rally together and rise to this challenge because as SG United, we can beat the virus together," he added.

Coronavirus: Singapore has chance to slow down spread of virus, says Gan Kim Yong
It aims to avoid sharp spike in cases, while ensuring outbreak does not last too long
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2020

Singapore aims to get through the coronavirus outbreak by attempting to avoid a sharp spike in cases, while ensuring that the epidemic does not last too long, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

In a ministerial statement, he laid out two strategies drawn up by academics to tackle the pandemic: Establishing herd immunity, and flattening the curve.

In the first scenario, the Government does nothing and the number of cases rises rapidly, Mr Gan told Parliament. In theory, most of the population gets infected and becomes immune, following which infection rates would slow down as the population becomes more immune, or a vaccine or cure is found.

"This scenario may seem attractive - you get over with it very quickly - but there are unfortunately two major risks," he said.

It is not yet clear that this immunity will be effective or sustained.

And an uncontrolled spike in the number of cases in a short period will overwhelm the healthcare system, easily resulting in high mortality rates. This was seen in China's Hubei province and Italy, and is increasingly becoming the case in other countries, Mr Gan said, adding: "There is no turning back once we are on this track."

An alternative strategy, known as flattening the curve, works by introducing stringent safe distancing and other measures to slow down the infection rate.

Although infection numbers will still grow, Singapore will end up with a lower peak of infections if this is done right. "But by flattening the curve, we may actually stretch out the pandemic, meaning it will take longer for the pandemic to be over," Mr Gan said.

Singapore is still at the start of the curve today, and has a chance to adopt neither strategy, he added. "We hope that if we do it right, we can significantly slow down the growth as much as we can, until the pandemic is over, without either a sharp peak or long tail," he said.

"This may sound impossible because these are the two curves that are established by academics. But as impossible as it may sound, we have to try our best to do so."

To achieve this, Singapore is strengthening efforts to detect cases early and start the contact tracing process as soon as possible, the minister said. The authorities have expanded contact tracing capacity from three teams at the start of the outbreak, to 20 teams today, in preparation for the expected surge in cases in the coming weeks.

They can now trace up to 4,000 contacts every day, and will continue to scale up capacity as needed, Mr Gan said.

Singapore is also leveraging technology to supplement contact tracing efforts, like the newly launched TraceTogether smartphone app, he added. The app can identify people who have been in close proximity - that is, within 2m for at least 30 minutes - to coronavirus patients, using wireless Bluetooth technology.

Mr Gan also said that people's daily actions will go a long way in winning the war against the virus, urging people to see a doctor and stay home if they are unwell, and to wash their hands regularly.

He noted that a few local clusters emerged when people who were unwell or on medical leave did not minimise social contact and continued going to work or for social activities.

"Studies on COVID-19 have shown that for each ill person who behaves responsibly, we can protect two to three others from being infected," he said.

Safe distancing measures are in place, he added, describing them as extra "brakes" to slow transmission of the virus, prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed, help bring the number of cases back down and protect seniors.

Why Singapore has to apply another set of 'brakes': Lawrence Wong
Stricter measures introduced as some were still gathering in large groups
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2020

Singapore had introduced its latest set of measures to increase social distancing because there were still accounts of people going to nightspots and gathering together in large groups, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

Such behaviour is the reason the Government has had to apply another set of "brakes", which will kick in at 11.59pm today, 26 March, to limit gatherings outside of work and school to fewer than 10 people, he told the House yesterday.

"We have to move faster - much faster," he said. "We still hear anecdotes of people going to discos, nightclubs and gathering in large groups. Our big worry is that these can become super-spreader events, spawning new clusters and potential runaway outbreaks."

The stricter safe distancing measures include the cancellation or deferment of all mass gatherings for at least the next one month, as that will add up to two virus incubation cycles.

All entertainment venues, such as bars and cinemas, and tuition centres will be closed until April 30. Similarly, all religious services will be suspended till the end of next month.

While malls, museums and attractions can stay open, they have to abide by such restrictions as keeping groups to fewer than 10 people and practising safe distancing.

"We recognise the inconvenience and disruption that these measures will bring to people's lives and to businesses, but we have no easy options," said Mr Wong. "That is the reality that all countries are facing in tackling the virus - the more we try to stop or slow down the virus, the steeper will be the damage on our economies.

"We have to do what is necessary from the public health point of view first - to save lives, slow down the virus, and thereafter do our best to manage the economic consequences," he added.

Mr Wong also reiterated his call for Singaporeans to defer all travel, noting that the Government has raised the travel advisory to the highest level. Those who still choose to go abroad have to pay full costs should they need treatment for COVID-19 when they return and, likewise, must foot the bill for their 14-day self-isolation at a hotel.

Underpinning these social distancing efforts is the need for all Singaporeans to take individual and social responsibility, as "the fight against the virus cannot be done by front-line agencies, front-line workers or government agencies alone", said Mr Wong.

He called on Singaporeans to uphold personal hygiene, see a doctor and rest if unwell, and to minimise non-essential activities and physical contact with others.

The Government has also not ruled out more drastic measures should the number of infected cases continues to rise, despite the current safeguards, he said. These would include the need to suspend schools and close workplaces.

"We will keep the measures under constant review," he said.

"If the situation worsens, we will apply extra brakes; if the situation improves, we may be able to ease off a little bit."

He added: "Not back to baseline, perhaps to a less stringent set of measures, because the pandemic will probably not be over for quite some time."

As he started to thank healthcare workers and the "many more unsung heroes" in industries such as cleaning, transport and essential services, Mr Wong began to tear up.

After a two-minute break - and thumps of encouragement from MPs in the House - a wet-eyed Mr Wong went on.

"Words are not sufficient to express our appreciation for so many Singaporeans going all out to fight the virus," he said. "And I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who is doing their part."

Places of worship can stay open, groups of 10 or fewer can meet
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2020

While all religious congregations and services have been suspended until April 30, places of worship may still remain open to cater to individuals who need help from religious leaders, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

Religious groups can continue to meet, but only if they abide by guidelines that, among other things, restrict them to 10 or fewer people in a group, he said in Parliament yesterday.

Mr Wong was responding to Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC), who asked about guidelines for major religious festivals taking place over the next two months, including the Qing Ming Festival, Easter and Ramadan, in the light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Yam had also asked about the circumstances under which a complete lockdown of Singapore would be considered.

In response, Mr Wong said that while some may use the word "lockdown" when it comes to the question of whether more drastic measures are required to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, the discussion should focus specifically on the measures that may be implemented and also take into account the reasons for a rise in cases.

"If we continue to see more new cases coming in, and a lot of them are imported cases, and we are able to contain and ring-fence and isolate them, we may not need to trigger additional measures.

"But if we see more local, transmitted cases - particularly unlinked ones - and that continues to rise despite all that we are doing with strict safe distancing measures, then we may well need to activate the next set of brakes in order to slow down the spread of the virus," he said. Such measures may include suspending schools and closing workplaces that provide non-essential services, he added.

In response to Nominated MPs Anthea Ong and Mohamed Irshad, who had called for safe distancing measures to be implemented on public transport, Mr Wong acknowledged that such measures are important.

But the issue of commuter load on public transport, particularly during peak hours, cannot be looked at in isolation, he said. Companies, too, play an important role in bringing down the sheer volume of commuters.

"If the numbers (of people who commute) are still high, having safe distancing within a train or bus will mean the queue goes up somewhere else. It will be at the bus stop, it will be outside the train station," he said.

Employers need to get as many of their staff as possible to work from home and put in place staggered hours for those who need to go to the office, he said. The Government is reaching out to employers to get them to step up and do more, he added, and will look at ways to improve engagement efforts.

Measures taken so far not akin to lockdown, says expert
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2020

To slow the spread of the coronavirus, Singapore has taken some drastic measures this week.

First, the doors were closed to tourists and short-term visitors.

Then pubs and entertainment outlets were ordered to be shuttered and large gatherings banned.

As the country's coronavirus infections climb, surging to new double-digit highs daily, calls for the Government to impose a lockdown have become louder.

The belief is that if daily life grinds to a near-halt, so too will the virus' spread.

This strategy had helped to defeat the Sars-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, in the Chinese city where it first emerged.

After a two-month lockdown, Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak where tens of thousands were infected, is now reporting close to zero domestic transmission daily. The Chinese government had closed schools and workplaces and ordered people to stay home except for grocery or medicine runs.

Some people have wondered if the recent spate of measures in Singapore is akin to a partial lockdown of the country.

But the dean of the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, Professor Teo Yik Ying, said: "I disagree with the use of the word lockdown in Singapore's case.

"People are free to move in many aspects; they can still go to malls, they can still go to restaurants, I can go to work, the schools are not closed and public transportation is not closed."

There is no universal definition of a lockdown, but in most countries, it is a protocol triggered by an emergency.

This means the movement of people, vehicles and goods is restricted by decree, and it is no longer a matter of personal choice whether to stay at home. It is required under the law.

In a lockdown, non-essential activities and even public transport can also be suspended.

Countries around the world have adopted varying degrees of physical distancing and restriction on movement, but the final decision hinges on the situation in the country, said Prof Teo.

For instance, in Italy, where there is widespread transmission of COVID-19, a lockdown that severely limits interaction among people is the right response and can help to dramatically curb the spread of the disease, he added.

"In Singapore right now, we are nowhere near that situation. For us to adopt such a measure will be unnecessary and not prudent.

"The measure we have adopted here is catered to the situation we have in Singapore," he said.

Around the world, governments are facing a tough choice as air travel, tourism and other industries grind to a halt.

If they keep businesses running and companies open, more people could catch the virus and pass it along, prolonging the public health and economic crises.

But if they do not, it could spark a recession, perhaps even a depression that may inflict lasting damage to their economies.

United States President Donald Trump, who saw his country's economy take a dive amid social distancing measures, had tweeted that the cure cannot be worse than the problem. He is said to be considering lifting public health measures after 15 days to kick-start the battered economy.

The lieutenant-governor of Texas, Mr Dan Patrick, who is 69, had gone further, saying in a TV interview that he would rather die than see the measures to protect the elderly from the virus damage the US economy.

He also said he believed that "lots of grandparents" in the country would similarly be willing to make that sacrifice for their grandchildren.

In Europe, Sweden has eschewed extreme measures, with the head of its public health agency Johan Carlson saying the country "cannot take draconian measures that have a limited impact on the epidemic but knock out the functions of society", the Financial Times reported.

As economies falter, some have warned there could be massive job losses leading to more stress. Social distancing measures could also affect mental health in the long term.

Scientists at Oxford University, meanwhile, suggest that about half the population in the United Kingdom may already be infected by the coronavirus.

If so, it may have acquired enough herd immunity for the disease's spread to slow down.

This means there is a chance that restrictions in the UK can be removed sooner than expected, reported the Financial Times.

Even then, some Singaporeans have clamoured for a lockdown, saying the short-term pain it will cause could bring cases down to single digits, or even zero.

But Prof Teo said that while such a strategy might work to keep cases down internally, Singapore could still be affected by imported cases, with some 200,000 Singaporeans still overseas.

"Do we expect the situation globally to improve in the next few weeks? If so, then I say go ahead, have short-term pain economically for four weeks, and the whole world is better off," he added.

"But unfortunately, the situation looks like it will continue for another three to six months at the very least. What this means is if we lock down now, it is not likely that we will see zero cases."

In fact, Singapore's spike in infections in the past week has been caused largely by imported cases, with many of them infected in the UK and the US.

Prof Teo said this is why border controls have been tightened and more stringent requirements have been imposed on those returning from the two countries.

They will be transported straight from the airport to hotels, where they must serve out their stay-home notice without mingling with others.

Prof Teo added that what will determine if Singapore needs to be locked down is not just the number of cases per se, but also whether the healthcare system can bear the load.

So far, Singapore has pursued a strategy of aggressive contact tracing and testing to slow the rate of people falling ill to preserve healthcare capacity, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said in Parliament yesterday.

With Singapore still at the start of the curve, the country can, for now, avoid choosing between shutting down the economy and allowing the infection to progress until the population attains herd immunity, he said.

Instead, the Government will aim to detect cases early by initiating contact tracing as soon as possible. To this end, contact tracing capacity has been increased from the three teams at the start to 20 teams today that can trace up to 4,000 people daily.

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs with Mr Gan the multi-ministry task force to tackle the outbreak, said each set of measures introduced progressively has been aimed at putting the brakes on the spread of the disease.

But he stressed: "Underpinning all of these efforts is the need for all Singaporeans to take individual and social responsibility."

In fact, washing of hands, keeping a safe distance from one another, working from home and avoiding large gatherings are the least disruptive measures, yet also the most important.

This is why supporting behavioural change may be the key to fighting the disease.

Associate Professor of Health Psychology and Behavioural Medicine Konstadina Griva of Nanyang Technological University's Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine said: "Lockdown practices are essentially social distancing measures that further limit opportunity for social transmission.

"Even such practices cannot be effective unless accompanied by changes in individual behaviours and habits."

Coronavirus: Singapore to ensure sufficient capacity to meet healthcare needs of all, says Gan Kim Yong
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2020

Singapore will ensure it has the capacity to meet the healthcare needs of COVID-19 patients as well as those with other ailments, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

He added that the country has invested significantly to make sure that it can manage infectious disease outbreaks, highlighting the new National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) in Novena.

The 330-bed centre was purpose-built with spare capacity, and can be increased to over 500 beds if necessary, Mr Gan said.

However, he added that if more large clusters emerge, it will be difficult to effectively contain them, and healthcare resources will be stretched.

"While we still have sufficient capacity in our healthcare system today, we cannot be complacent and we need to preserve our buffer capacity," he said.

In his ministerial statement, Mr Gan noted that at the start of the outbreak, Singapore took the conservative approach of admitting all COVID-19 cases, regardless of severity, until they tested negative twice over 24 hours. But now, it is clear that about 80 per cent of cases are mild or moderate, with many hospitalised cases experiencing mild symptoms similar to the flu.

"They only require limited medical care, and what we need really are isolation facilities to prevent them from infecting others until they are free of the virus," he said.

This is why the Government has started tapping private hospitals and setting up community care facilities. Concord International Hospital in Adam Road started accepting well and stable COVID-19 patients last Friday, and Mount Elizabeth Hospital saw its first such patient on Monday. The Government has also converted some government quarantine facilities, starting with D'Resort in Pasir Ris, which has a maximum capacity of about 500, for this purpose.

Singapore residents and long-term pass holders transferred to these facilities will continue to get free testing and treatment, except those who travelled overseas despite the travel advisory and contracted the infection while abroad.

They will continue to be quarantined and closely monitored, Mr Gan said, so there is no risk of the public in the community being exposed to these cases while they are at these facilities.

These patients will be discharged only when they have fully recovered and tested negative for the virus twice over a duration of 24 hours. At this point, they no longer have any risk of transmitting the virus to others as they have fully recovered, Mr Gan said, adding that the Government will continue to explore the use of such isolation facilities for COVID-19 patients who are well and in a stable condition.

"This way, we can focus our critical hospital resources on the seriously ill, to minimise the number of fatalities," he said. "But rest assured that any Singaporean who requires medical care, whether for COVID-19 or other illnesses, will receive the necessary treatment and care."

Mr Gan also gave an overview of local efforts to develop a vaccine and find effective treatments for the disease. A workgroup comprising members from various hospitals, as well as the Health Sciences Authority, has been set up to work on guidelines for repurposed drugs with antiviral activity to treat infected patients.

The NCID and Tan Tock Seng Hospital, together with the Singapore Blood Bank, have also been working to collect convalescent blood plasma from recovered patients to treat those who are still hospitalised. Doctors here have also been participating in international clinical trials, Mr Gan said.

Meanwhile, Duke-NUS Medical School is working with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and international partners to develop a clinical trial for a vaccine, with plans to start testing some time this year.

A stoic minister weeps as nation confronts generation's greatest challenge
By Grace Ho, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2020

It started like any speech made in Parliament. But Mr Lawrence Wong's voice was quavering.

"I thank everyone who is working flat out to fight the virus - healthcare workers on the front line making many sacrifices and working tirelessly to care for patients, public officials working round the clock," said Mr Wong, the National Development Minister and co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force.

The characteristically stoic minister started to cry as he recounted the toll the outbreak had taken on Singapore's unsung heroes, including in areas like cleaning, security, airport management and others providing essential services. "We are literally putting in place adjustments to measures almost on a daily basis, going all out to adjust to these changes and ensuring smooth implementation.

"From time to time, there will be public complaints, (these officers) take all of this in their stride. If there are lapses, they try to rectify them as quickly as possible.

"Words are not sufficient to express our appreciation for all of those who are..."

He broke off to compose himself. In the span of two minutes, he paused twice, took sips of water, apologised, and asked for a minute to settle down.

It was a scene out of the ordinary. But these are no ordinary times.

Yesterday, MPs were seen looking for their assigned seats under new social distancing guidelines that spread them out over two floors, something Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin observed had never happened in the history of the Singapore Parliament.

A few found themselves in the media gallery usually occupied by reporters.

The severity of COVID-19 was highlighted in ministerial statements delivered by Mr Wong and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

As far as crisis statements go, these checked all the boxes. They covered the five important "Ws" - who, what, when, where and why; spelt out difficult dilemmas and trade-offs, and explained the rationale behind government decisions.

Above all, the ministers were empathetic, appreciative and unafraid to show emotion, acknowledging the deep fears and anxieties of Singaporeans.

Mr Gan started the ball rolling with the global context. Across the world, over 436,000 people have been infected with COVID-19, leading to more than 19,600 deaths.

Closer to home, the number of cases here has more than doubled in the past week, from 266 to a total of 558 on Tuesday. Almost 80 per cent of these new cases are imported.

The Government has sought to limit local spread by reducing importation, detecting and isolating cases early, and emphasising social responsibility and good personal hygiene habits.

The latest steps taken, the most drastic so far, include barring short-term visitors and the closure of all bars, cinemas and entertainment venues.

But there are no quick fixes, cautioned Mr Gan. The World Health Organisation estimates that the earliest a vaccine can be ready is next year.

Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases here will continue to rise in the coming weeks as some of the 200,000 overseas Singaporeans return home. Healthcare workers and facilities may be crushed under the weight of this tsunami.

Hence, the Government must focus critical resources on the seriously ill to minimise the number of deaths, while tapping new facilities - including private hospitals such as Concord International Hospital and Mount Elizabeth Hospital - for COVID-19 patients who are well and stable.

Singapore's strategy is to slow down the infection rate and maintain it at as low a level for as long as possible, Mr Gan said. "A lower infection rate will help us to better conduct epidemiological investigations, contact tracing and quarantining of close contacts so as to prevent further spread of COVID-19 in the community."

In his subsequent speech, Mr Wong pleaded for Singaporeans' understanding even as the latest control measures - from suspending religious services, classes at tuition centres and activities at entertainment venues, to restrictions on shopping malls, museums and attractions - bring inconvenience.

He explained that when people frequent nightclubs and gather in large groups, these can become "super-spreader" events spawning new clusters and potential runaway outbreaks. The measures will take effect from 11.59pm today and stay in place until the end of next month, or about two incubation cycles of the virus.

This Government - like others around the world - is caught between a rock and a hard place in balancing public health considerations with the economic impact of such measures.

"This is the reality that all countries are facing in tackling the virus - the more we try to flatten the (infection) curve, the steeper will be the damage on our economies," he said. "So, we have to do what is necessary from the public health point of view first, and then do our best to manage the economic consequences."

Public officers are working round the clock. The task force, he added, had been sharing the measures with the Finance Ministry so it can factor them into the size of the second support package that Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat will announce today.

If there is one message Mr Wong had for Singaporeans, it is this: Minimise non-essential activities and contact with others during this period. The country is in a critical phase in its fight against the virus, and the latest measures may help slow the spread and stabilise the number of new cases.

But if cases continue to spike despite these measures, he said, the Government will have to suspend schools and close workplaces except those that provide essential services.

He acknowledged the growing uncertainty, anxiety and fear among Singaporeans.

"People are asking many questions: How long will this last? How safe will we be? How will our businesses survive? Some want more drastic measures. Some say we are doing too much and there are too many restrictions. I appreciate all of your feedback. I can't reply to each one of them individually, but the team is looking at all of them... In some cases, there are no clear answers because the situation is so fluid and changing rapidly by the day.

"But one thing is clear - we are all in this together, and we will continue to work through the challenges together every step of the way."

Mr Wong added that the country is only at the beginning of a long fight, which will go on for many more months.

Today, a second support package will be announced, which is almost certain to be of a size unlike anything seen in living memory.

The message from the Government is clear: We cannot guarantee the virus will go away any time soon. We may not have all the answers. But we are trying our darnedest, we are listening, and we will not leave Singaporeans behind, both through good times and bad.

Coronavirus: Record 73 new cases on 25 March 2020; fresh cluster of 18 cases at Fengshan pre-school
PCF centre's principal, 4 family members, 13 teaching and non-teaching staff test positive
By Dominic Low, The Straits Times, 26 Mar 2020

Singapore yesterday confirmed a new daily high of 73 coronavirus cases, while a new cluster of 18 cases has emerged at the PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots centre at Fengshan Block 126.

The new cases bring the total number here to 631, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said.

Of the 18 cases in the PCF Sparkletots cluster, 14 are teaching and non-teaching staff at the pre-school, while four are family members of the centre's principal - a 47-year-old Singaporean woman.

The second new cluster comprises three staff members at Dover Court International School.

A spokesman for the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) said 13 staff from the pre-school in Bedok North had tested positive yesterday, following the Nursery 2 teacher who was found to have the coronavirus on Monday.

One of them is the centre's principal, who was well when she was at work on March 17, but developed symptoms in the afternoon, the spokesman said. On that day, she had a meeting with her staff and later attended a course with other pre-school staff in the evening.

The principal saw a doctor the next morning and was on medical leave until last Friday. Most of the other staff who tested positive began developing symptoms from last Friday and at the weekend.

Four of the principal's family members who do not live with her were found to have COVID-19 on Monday and Tuesday.

ECDA has closed the centre from Tuesday to April 7, and placed all children and staff present at the centre from March 16 to Tuesday on quarantine.

In a letter to parents, PCF chief executive Victor Bay apologised after preliminary investigations found there were staff who were at work despite feeling unwell.

"It is regrettable that measures put in place to safeguard the wellbeing of children and staff were not strictly followed in that centre," he said. "We will do a comprehensive review of what happened in this case and take appropriate action."

Of the 73 new COVID-19 cases, 38 were imported, said MOH. All except one of the imported cases were returning residents and long-term pass holders who had travelled to Europe, North America, Asean and other parts of Asia.

Of the 35 new local cases, 27 were linked to clusters or previous cases, while contact tracing is ongoing for eight cases that were not linked to travel or previous cases.

There were two three-year-olds among the new cases. One is a Singaporean girl, an imported case from the United States. The other is an Indian girl who is a long-term pass holder and linked to an earlier case.

Five more cases were discharged from hospital yesterday. To date, 160 patients have fully recovered from the infection and been discharged.

Among the 404 patients still in hospital, 17 are in critical condition in the intensive care unit.

"Sixty-five cases who are clinically well, but still test positive for COVID-19, have been transferred to Concord International Hospital, Mount Elizabeth Hospital and the Community Isolation Facility at D'Resort NTUC for isolation and care," MOH said.

As of noon yesterday, MOH had identified 8,930 close contacts who have been quarantined. Of these, 2,643 are currently quarantined, while 6,287 have completed their quarantine.

In a Facebook post, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore expects to see more cases as more overseas Singaporeans return home.

Noting that some people are not abiding by stay-home notices issued to them, he said: "Please comply - it is irresponsible to gallivant off to eat local food you miss, or to go partying with friends, when you are supposed to stay at home and isolate yourself. You will also be breaking the law."

Ministry of Health - Updates on COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) Local Situation 2019 - COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease 2019) situation in Singapore

2019 Novel Coronavirus: Ministerial Statement on Whole-of-Government Response

Wuhan virus: Singapore confirms first case of novel coronavirus infection on 23 January 2020

Wuhan virus: Singapore has to stay vigilant, but has every reason to be confident, says PM Lee Hsien Loong

Wuhan virus: Each Singapore household to get 4 free masks for contingencies; collection starts on 1 Feb till 9 Feb 2020

2019-nCoV: Singapore reports first cases of local coronavirus transmission on 4 February 2020

2019-nCoV: Singapore employers will receive $100 a day for each worker serving the 14-day Leave of Absence (LOA)

DORSCON Orange: Singapore raises coronavirus outbreak alert on 7 February 2020; Singaporeans clear supermarket shelves in panic buying of essentials

Fear and panic can do more harm than coronavirus: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Singapore to work closely with China to battle novel coronavirus threat: Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat

COVID-19: Show support for healthcare workers on front lines, says Health Minister Gan Kim Yong

$77 million support package for taxi and private hire drivers affected by the Coronavirus Disease 19 (COVID-19) outbreak

Total Defence Day 2020: Government to ensure minimal retrenchments as Singapore deals with COVID-19, says Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen

PM Lee Hsien Loong doesn’t rule out recession as coronavirus outbreak hits Singapore’s economy hard

COVID-19: Clinics roped in to help detect and manage coronavirus cases from 18 February 2020

Budget 2020 to help families with cost of living and businesses tackle COVID-19 fallout: Heng Swee Keat

COVID-19: Singapore's new Stay-Home Notice, all returning from China not allowed to leave home for 14 days

Singapore Budget 2020: Advancing as One Singapore

Leak of closed-door Chan Chun Sing meeting deeply disappointing and a betrayal, says Singapore Chinese Chamber president

Ministry of Home Affairs investigating Singapore religious teacher for xenophobic, racist posts about the coronavirus

COVID-19: Singapore won't hesitate to act against those who flout measures to curb coronavirus, says Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam

COVID-19: Singapore to bar visitors from South Korea, north Italy and Iran from 4 March 2020; other travellers with symptoms may face nasal swab tests at checkpoints

SG Clean Taskforce formed to raise hygiene standards beyond COVID-19 outbreak

Foreigners to pay for COVID-19 treatment in Singapore from 7 March 2020

Best response to the coronavirus? Altruism

COVID-19: Why was the Costa Fortuna cruise ship allowed to dock in Singapore?

Singapore COVID-19 spread caused by socially irresponsible behaviour

Singapore working on second stimulus package as COVID-19 situation has worsened, says DPM Heng Swee Keat

COVID-19 situation is serious but under control in Singapore: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his second national address on the situation

Singapore takes more tough steps to curb spread of COVID-19 (13 March 2020)

Singaporeans advised to defer all non-essential travel for next 30 days, as part of new COVID-19 measures (16 March 2020)

Malaysia closes borders in lockdown from 18 to 31 March 2020 to curb COVID-19 spread

COVID-19: Singaporeans advised to defer all travel abroad; all returning residents and short-term visitors will be served 14-day Stay-Home-Notice from 20 March 2020, 2359 hours

Police investigating Facebook post by NUS Atheist Society suggesting using holy books as toilet paper during COVID-19 outbreak

Stricter safe distancing measures to prevent further spread of COVID-19 cases (20 March 2020)

Singapore launches TraceTogether mobile app to boost COVID-19 contact tracing efforts

Singapore reports first two COVID-19 deaths on 21 March 2020

How Singapore overcame past downturns

Singapore border control measures: All short-term visitors barred from entering or transiting in Singapore from 23 March 2020, 11.59pm to reduce further importation of COVID-19 cases

Stay at home as much as you can: Singapore announces strictest measures yet to fight COVID-19

Coronavirus: Precautions will be taken whenever polls are held, says Teo Chee Hean

COVID-19: Those who breach stay-home notice will be charged in court, says Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam

Life and Death in a Wuhan Coronavirus ICU

Digital space a new battleground in war against Wuhan virus

World Health Organisation very impressed with Singapore's COVID-19 response

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