A month ago, the whole world looked hopefully at Singapore as a great example of how to efficiently tackle the coronavirus without going into lockdown. In the meantime, the state has been hit hard by a second wave of infections. Yesterday was the biggest increase to date with 942 new cases. How could that happen?
On March 17, according to Johns Hopkins University figures, Singapore had just 266 infections. Today they count nearly 6,558, the highest number in Southeast Asia. The latest increase is one of 596 additional infections, while thousands of new cases are reported daily in the severely affected western countries. But Singapore is small (about 700 km²) and has only 5.7 million inhabitants.
The major advantage of the city and island state in the fight against corona is that it has only one important national border, the one with Malaysia, and that it can also easily control who enters Singapore by plane. Healthcare is excellent. Infected patients were not quarantined at home, but were not allowed to leave the hospital until they tested negative again. Extensive testing and suspected cases were also quarantined.
All this was initially sufficient to stop the advance of Covid-19. However, it has become apparent in recent weeks that Singapore was also unable to control the coronavirus. The cause must be found in not detecting sources of contamination in migrant workers who live in tight, shared sleeping quarters and underestimating the speed with which the infections could spread in a city where no closure measures had been taken. Only 25 of the 596 infected people reported today are Singaporeans or people with a permanent residence permit. The hundreds of others are foreign workers.
The original success of the approach in Singapore was based on two things: external infections should be avoided and new ones tackled quickly and effectively. However, despite extensive testing, Singapore apparently missed important clusters of Covid-19 cases. In an area where there is no lockdown, the spread of the virus has free rein.
In the metropolis, for example, it seems to be taking over in crowded housing complexes of labor migrants.
Many of those housing complexes have now been quarantined and the government now wants to test all workers. It is not clear whether the virus has been imported from abroad or has been circulating in this population for some time, where social distancing is virtually impossible.
Those housing complexes therefore became a ticking time bomb.