Coronavirus: Singapore struggles with third wave of infections

Surge in new cases in city-state and Hong Kong leads to tough new restrictions

Singapore is racing to contain a new coronavirus outbreak after a sudden increase in cases among the city's army of migrant workers, underlining the challenge of returning to normality even for countries that had seemed to have brought the epidemic under control.

The city-state, which had won plaudits for its rapid initial response to the outbreak earlier this year, has announced a near total lockdown after reporting a surge in new cases over the past few days. Total infections have jumped 60 per cent in the past week to 1,481, including 106 on Tuesday and 120 on Sunday, a record for a single day for Singapore.

"The trend is particularly concerning in the past week," said Gan Kim Yong, minister of health, citing the emergence of new clusters and the growing number of patients with no links to confirmed cases.

Singapore and Hong Kong were quick to use stringent travel restrictions, contact tracing and other measures to slow the spread of the disease and for a time appeared to have brought it under control.


But the two international financial centres are facing a sharp rise in cases, forcing them to implement this week their toughest distancing measures yet.

The escalation in the cities' responses comes as Austria, the Czech Republic and Denmark are set to become the first European countries to loosen restrictions on daily life and business.

New laws

Singapore on Tuesday evening passed a bill banning social gatherings of any size, while Hong Kong on Wednesday extended closures of entertainment venues and restrictions on public gatherings for another two weeks.

Hong Kong authorities on Wednesday said they had seen a “drastic increase” in the number of patients over the past fortnight from 387 to 936. “Many of the cases are locally acquired infections without travel history,” the government said.

The number of Singapore’s locally transmitted infections has more than doubled in the past fortnight following a wave of imported infections. They include new clusters at foreign worker dormitories, in which thousands of migrants live in often crowded rooms.

Authorities on Sunday put two of these dormitories housing 19,800 people in isolation for two weeks, during which time workers would not be able to leave their rooms. In the past three days, cases linked to foreign worker dormitories accounted for 35 per cent of newly reported patients.

Singapore has passed a bill valid for up to six months that prohibits social gatherings of any size among individuals not living in the same household in public and private spaces.

Offenders will face fines of up to S$10,000 (€6,400) and/or a maximum jail sentence of six months in the first instance and double that for subsequent offences.

Singapore has also closed schools and most workplaces until May 4th. People can only leave their homes for essential services, groceries or to exercise in the park at a safe distance.

Hong Kong’s measures include shutting down establishments such as fitness centres, karaoke parlours and bars while restaurants must reduce seating capacity by 50 per cent and ensure tables are at least 1.5 metres apart.

Those who do not comply with public gathering restrictions face a fine of HK$25,000 (€3,000) or six months in prison. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2020