SINGAPORE – Singapore said on Friday it would ban meals at restaurants and gatherings of more than two people to try to stem an increase in coronavirus cases, becoming the latest Asian country to reintroduce restrictions after controlling the disease During months.
The new measures came after the city-state recorded 34 new cases on Thursday, a small number by global standards, but part of an increase in infections attributable to workers vaccinated at Singapore Changi Airport.
The airport outbreak began with an 88-year-old member of the airport cleaning crew who was fully vaccinated but tested positive for the virus on May 5. Colleagues who later became infected visited an airport food court, where they transmitted the virus. virus to other customers, officials said.
None of the cases linked to the airport outbreak appear to have resulted in serious illness or death, officials said.
In all, 46 cases have been traced to the airport, the largest of a dozen clusters of new infections in the country.
“Because we don’t know how far transmission has occurred in the community, we need to take more and tighter restrictions,” said Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the Singapore Coronavirus Task Force. The measures will be in effect for about a month from Sunday.
According to preliminary tests, many of those infected worked in an area of the airport that received flights from high-risk countries, including South Asia. Several have tested positive for the B.1.617 variant first detected in India, what the World Health Organization said could be more contagious than most versions of the coronavirus.
Singapore health officials said that of 28 airport workers who were infected, 19 were fully vaccinated with Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, the only two approved for use in Singapore.
“Unfortunately, this very virulent mutant virus has crossed the defense ladder,” Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung said at a virtual press conference on Friday.
Mr Ong also said that the increase in cases “very likely” means a long-delayed air bubble with Hong Kong would not start as expected on May 26.
Singapore, a thriving island hub of 5.7 million people, has seen an explosion of infections among migrant workers living in dormitories, but a two-month lockdown and extensive testing and contact tracing contained the outbreak. Although Singapore has kept much of its economy open, its vaccination efforts have not progressed as quickly as many had expected: less than a quarter of the population has been fully vaccinated.
changi airport, which served more than 68 million passengers in 2019, is operating at 3% of capacity as Singapore has suspended almost all inbound commercial traffic. Employees work there under strict controls, wear protective gear and undergo regular coronavirus tests.
Singapore joins Japan, Thailand and other Asian countries that have struggled to contain new outbreaks, fueled in part by variants. But Paul Ananth Tambyah, president of the Asia-Pacific Society for Clinical Microbiology and Infection, said the increase in cases was not too much of a concern.
“The reason for my optimism is that we now have effective vaccines, better diagnostics, proven treatments and even potential prophylactic agents,” he said. “If these are employed in a targeted approach, it is unlikely that we will end up with the same problems we had last year.”