SINGAPORE: The number of locally transmitted and unlinked cases of COVID-19 in Singapore is increasing, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Tuesday (Mar 31), as he stressed the importance of taking safe distancing measures seriously.

On average, there are 25 locally transmitted cases a day, Mr Gan said during a press conference that was held virtually on video conferencing.

READ: 47 new COVID-19 cases in Singapore, including 18 currently unlinked: MOH

“The number of local cases is rising and so are unlinked cases. Contact tracing is ongoing, and it is very important for us to continue to do so,” he said. 

As the virus continues to spread across the world, there is “strong evidence” that safe distancing is a very important measure to stop and slow down the transmission, Mr Gan noted. 

It was a message emphasised by Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force on COVID-19 with Mr Gan.

READ: ‘No magic solution’: Lawrence Wong on why Singapore not locked down amid COVID-19 outbreak

He said that Singapore’s focus now has to be on locally transmitted cases, particularly the unlinked cases as the number of imported cases from people returning to Singapore tapers off.

“Particularly worrying are the unlinked cases. We have an excellent contact tracing team, and they are going all out to trace down each and every new case, identify the links,” Mr Wong said.

However, he cautioned that it will be “very difficult” for them as they go about doing their work, with new cases “popping up” every day. 

The number of unlinked cases in Singapore currently is a “reflection of exposure” that these individuals have already had in the past, said director of medical services at the Ministry of Health (MOH) Kenneth Mak.

“And it is often a result of an exposure to people who are infected, who persist on in these (social) activities,” he added.

IMPORTANCE OF PROTECTING SENIORS

Since seniors face a higher risk of death if they are infected with COVID-19, it is important that residents protect them by engaging in safe distancing and separation, said Assoc Prof Mak. 

“Our seniors are vulnerable, and it’s important that we respect that social separation,” he said, while encouraging those who live with elderly family members to “observe extra caution”.

“Raise your hygiene standards when you interact with them. If you are ill, please don’t get near your seniors. If they don’t stay with you, don’t visit them. This is a way to protect the seniors at home,” added Assoc Prof Mak. 

READ: COVID-19 temporary measures: Gatherings outside of school and work limited to 10 people, entertainment venues to close

Among the linked cases, Assoc Prof Mak said that “there are certain patterns”.

“Many of them are linked by activity, and it includes social gatherings, links, by virtue of being in the same household. In other words, family members, linked by virtue of working together with colleagues at the workplace and other social activities including singing classes,” he said.

“This reinforces therefore the importance of our social measures to enhance physical distancing and safe separation,” he added.

“It is therefore important for all of us to therefore assist in controlling the creation and propagation of clusters by obeying these measures.”

Authorities had last week announced that gatherings outside school and work will be limited to a maximum of 10 people until Apr 30 this year. The duration of the stricter measures may be extended if the situation here does not improve.

All centre-based tuition and enrichment classes have been suspended, along with all religious services and congregations. 

Owners of premises and event organisers must ensure that non-fixed seating is at least 1m away from any other seat at all times. If seats are fixed to the floor, alternate seats need to be demarcated as a seat not to be occupied. 

In public places where queues are formed, such as at retail stores or supermarkets, individuals need to stand 1m apart in the queue. 

READ: COVID-19: Firms that do not allow telecommuting where ‘reasonably practicable’ may be issued stop-work order, says Josephine Teo

Assoc Prof Mak said it will take one or two weeks for Singapore to see indicators of whether safe distancing measures are slowing down transmission. 

“The number of (unlinked) cases that came on board, that we see over the last few days, is a cause for concern, but that relates to the previous exposure and we remain optimistic,” he explained.

“SAFE DISTANCING CAN SAVE LIVES”

Mr Gan said that while he is “heartened” that many Singaporeans are starting to modify their behaviour and adopt safe distancing as part of their life, there are others who have not.

“I’m concerned that many more still have not heeded our advice and have carried on with social activities such as shopping, participating in social gatherings, as well as congregating in groups,” he said.

While acknowledging that safe distancing measures can be “quite onerous” and sometimes “even painful”, Mr Gan urged Singaporeans to do their part to stem the spread of the virus.

“The task force did not take it lightly in implementing these measures. But for safe distancing to work to slow down the spread of COVID-19, all Singaporeans have to play our part,” he said. 

“Safe distancing can save lives.”

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