13 SEP 2020
INDIA REPORTS MORE THAN 94,000 NEW CORONAVIRUS CASES, OVER 1,000 MORE DEATHS
MUMBAI: India reported 94,372 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Sunday (Sep 13), taking total cases past 4.7 million, as infection numbers rose in several states amid a gradual opening up of businesses.
The number of deaths rose to 78,586, with 1,114 new deaths, health ministry data showed.
While several states showed a rise in infections, including the capital New Delhi and the central Chhattisgarh state, the highest numbers were from the India's biggest and richest state, Maharashtra, which reported 8,204 fresh cases.
Maharashtra's Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray in a news briefing on Sunday urged residents to wear masks and maintain social distancing, amid growing fatigue over a drawn-out lockdown that has made many lax about taking precautions.
The western state recorded its millionth coronavirus infection on Friday, putting it on par with Russia in the pandemic and stifling India’s attempts to turn around the plummeting economy.
The state of 130 million people, home to the densely-packed financial capital Mumbai, has pushed up infection numbers in India, which is likely to hit 5 million cases in coming days, behind only to the United States.
13 SEP 2020
FRANCE'S DAILY COVID-19 CASES PASS 10,000 FOR FIRST TIME
PARIS: France has had 10,561 new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, health authorities said on Saturday (Sep 12), a new daily record as the number topped 10,000 for the first time.
The latest daily count, surpassing the previous record of 9,843 new infections reported on Thursday, highlights a resurgence of the disease in France.
The rise led the government to outline additional measures on Friday to avert a return to the general lockdown put in place earlier in the year.
In its daily update, the French health ministry also reported that 772 clusters were being investigated, an increase of 86 in the past 24 hours.
Over the past week, there had been 2,432 arrivals in hospital for COVID-19, including 417 entries into intensive care units, the ministry said.
A total of 417 new patients were admitted to intensive care over the last week - 28 on Saturday.
The death toll since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak this year in French hospitals and nursing homes has reached 30,910, with 17 deaths recorded in the past 24 hours, it added
13 SEP 2020
INDONESIA REPORTS SIXTH CONSECUTIVE DAY OF OVER 3,000 NEW COVID-19 INFECTIONS
JAKARTA: Indonesia on Sunday (Sep 13) reported its sixth consecutive day of over 3,000 new cases of novel coronavirus infection, just as the capital city of Southeast Asia's most populous country prepares to reimpose social distancing restrictions.
New infections on Sunday reached 3,636 with new deaths at 73, showed data from the health ministry's website. That brought the total number of infections to 218,382 and deaths to 8,723. To try and stem the spread of the virus in Jakarta, employees of businesses considered non-essential will be required to work from home from Monday. Certain government workers will be allowed to work from offices.
Markets and shopping centres will be permitted to stay open with admittance at half capacity, and restaurants within shopping centres will be allowed to operate for take-out only, Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan told a news briefing on Sunday. "Our main focus is to set restrictions in office spaces," Baswedan said. "We hope this will put a stop to the rising number of cases in office clusters."
The curbs will be implemented for two weeks, but can be extended, he said.
As of Sunday, Jakarta had logged 54,220 cases of infection and 1,391 deaths.
12 SEP 2020
AUSTRALIA COVID-19 DEATHS PASS 800 BUT NEW DAILY INFECTIONS FALL
MELBOURNE: Deaths related to the novel coronavirus in Australia reached 803 on Saturday (Sep 12), but new daily infections in the country's largest hotspot continued to fall.
Victoria state, the epicentre of the outbreak, reported six new deaths related to the coronavirus over the past 24 hours, bringing its total to 716, or more than 90 per cent of all deaths in Australia.
However, new cases in the country's second-most populous state continued to fall from a peak of more than 700 in a single day in early August. It reported 37 new cases on Saturday, its lowest since late June.
The state, home to one-quarter of Australia's 25 million people, now accounts for about 75 per cent of the country's more than 26,500 COVID-19 cases. The state capital, Melbourne, has been under a strict lockdown for weeks. Protesters in Melbourne defied a coronavirus lockdown for the second straight weekend on Saturday, prompting 14 arrests and 51 infringement notices for breaching public health orders.
About 100 people protested in various locations in Melbourne, Victoria Police said, after about 200 people gathered the weekend before. The lockdown, which was initially to end on Sunday, has been extended for another two weeks.
Neighbouring New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, reported six new cases. There have been isolated cases in Queensland in recent weeks, but the virus has been effectively eliminated in other states and territories. Australia has fared better than many other countries in managing the health crisis and a subsequent economic slump, thanks to swift measures and substantial government financial support.
12 SEP 2020
ASTRA ZENECA RESUMES UK TRIALS OF COVID-19 PATIENT HALTED BY PATIENT ILLNESS
"On Sep 6, the standard review process triggered a voluntary pause to vaccination across all global trials to allow review of safety data by independent committees, and international regulators," AstraZeneca said. It added that safety reviewers had recommended to Britain's Medicines Health Regulatory Authority (MHRA) that it was safe to resume the British trials.
The patient involved in the study had been reportedly suffering from neurological symptoms associated with a rare spinal inflammatory disorder called transverse myelitis. AstraZeneca, based in Cambridge, said it could not disclose further medical information.
"The company will continue to work with health authorities across the world and be guided as to when other clinical trials can resume to provide the vaccine broadly, equitably and at no profit during this pandemic," AstraZeneca said. It declined to elaborate further on when other global trials were expected to restart.
The Serum Institute of India said it would restart its trials once it had permission from the Drugs Controller General of India. Brazil's health regulator ANVISA said it was awaiting notice from the British MHRA confirming that resumption of trials has been authorized before resuming in Brazil. The Federal University of Sao Paulo, which is conducting the paused trials, said in a statement that 4,600 of the planned 5,000 volunteers have been recruited and vaccinated without any of them repo
Governments around the world are desperate for a vaccine to help end the pandemic, which has caused more than 900,000 deaths and global economic turmoil. The World Health Organization (WHO) had flagged AstraZeneca's as the most promising.
The vaccine is in late-stage clinical trials in the United States, Britain, Brazil and South Africa and additional trials are planned in Japan and Russia.
The pause of the trials came after reports that the United States was aiming for fast-track authorisation or approval of a vaccine before November's presidential election. Leading US and European vaccine developers have pledged to uphold scientific safety and efficacy standards for their experimental vaccines and not bow to political pressures to rush the process.
AstraZeneca has already agreed to supply close to 3 billion doses to governments across the globe - more than any other vaccine project. The WHO's chief scientist said the pause in the trials should serve as a "wake-up" call that there would be ups and downs in the development of a vaccine.
11 SEP 2020
FLU VACCINATIONS ‘EVEN MORE IMPORTANT’ AMID COVID-19, SAY DOCTORS
SINGAPORE: Getting a flu vaccination is more crucial amid the COVID-19 pandemic, especially when the symptoms of influenza and the novel coronavirus are similar, said doctors and infectious diseases experts. Under the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) National Adult Immunisation Schedule, one dose of influenza vaccination is recommended per year or per flu season, and it is “strongly recommended” for vulnerable groups.
They include older people, young children, pregnant women and those with chronic conditions. “This is for optimal protection against circulating influenza viruses, especially when the symptoms of influenza and COVID-19 are similar and not easily distinguishable,” said MOH in response to CNA’s queries.
As the flu season usually peaks towards the end of the year, experts fear a “twindemic” then, said Farrer Park Hospital’s infectious diseases specialist Dr Lam Mun San. “We are basically sailing in uncharted waters as to how influenza and COVID-19 co-circulation will behave,” she said.
“There will be a challenge to distinguish flu symptoms from COVID symptoms as both diseases circulate simultaneously. Getting flu shots will hopefully reduce the background noise.”
Agreeing, family physician Dr Leong Choon Kit said: “With a lower chance of contracting the influenza infection, it helps to reduce the noise interfering with diagnosing COVID-19 infection. “Therefore, it is more important for the population to be vaccinated against influenza than other years.”
REDUCE STRAIN ON MEDICAL FACILITIES
Getting a flu vaccination could also help reduce the strain on healthcare facilities, said experts CNA spoke to.
“If we can minimise influenza rates or prevent influenza, from a public health and resource perspective, it would decrease the acute respiratory infection rates from influenza, the strain on testing resources, as well as decrease hospitalisations or isolation beds for the sicker patients,” said the National Centre for Infectious Diseases’ (NCID) clinical director Dr Shawn Vasoo.
It is therefore “even more important” for people to follow MOH’s advice on vaccinations, said Dr Barnaby Young, a consultant with NCID.
“Vaccinations are safe and effective at preventing influenza infections, they can reduce the strain on clinics and hospitals during flu season, and will protect vulnerable people in the community,” he added.
In the United Kingdom, the government announced in July that about 30 million people would be offered a free flu vaccine this year, to prepare for a winter that could see the annual flu season coincide with a COVID-19 surge.
Doctors in the US have also been pushing for more people to get the flu shot, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ordering an additional 9.3 million doses of the vaccine this year.
The density of Singapore’s population makes the country vulnerable to an influenza epidemic, said Dr Mark Ng, clinical lead for the Infection Prevention and Infectious Disease Workgroup at SingHealth Polyclinics. “(This) can be prevented if most of us are vaccinated. This relates to what we call the herd immunity,” Dr Ng added.
FEWER PEOPLE GETTING FLU JAB
Despite the importance of getting a flu jab, some doctors said there has been a drop in the number of people getting the vaccination, citing the “circuit breaker” period and a general reluctance to visit clinics during the pandemic.
During the circuit breaker and even after the reopening in Phase 2, there have been fewer cases of respiratory illnesses, including influenza, said Dr Lam. NCID’s Dr Young attributed this to the measures taken to prevent COVID-19 transmission – wearing masks, hand hygiene and safe distancing.
Dr Leong from Mission Medical Clinic said that many people would rather avoid visiting clinics during this period, noting that MOH had previously advised against going to clinics for elective vaccinations.
“I think most people are distracted by the COVID-19 outbreak,” he said. His clinic has seen a 30 per cent decrease in the number of people coming to get vaccinated for influenza, added Dr Leong, describing it as a “considerable drop” compared to previous years.
People in Singapore also have a “misconception” that the influenza vaccine is a travel vaccine, he added. “So they may assume that since they are not travelling, the influenza (jab) is not needed.” “If the public suffers from a genuine influenza infection and is not seeking medical help, they may suffer severe consequences of the infection and may even die from the infection,” Dr Leong added.
“Besides vaccinating themselves, should they have any signs of infection, they must seek medical help at their regular family physicians early.” Dr Vasoo noted that with travel opening up further and the easing of social restrictions in the community, Singapore may see an increase in acute respiratory infections and COVID-19 cases.
“Getting an influenza jab can help to prevent and decrease the circulation, morbidity and consequences from both diseases and is therefore a useful tool, both at a public health and at an individual level,” he added.
11 SEP 2020
THAILAND FINDS SECOND COVID-19 INFECTION AFTER LONG ABSENCE
BANGKOK: Thai health authorities on Friday (Sep 11) confirmed another coronavirus infection had been detected in the country, in an Uzbek professional football player, eight days after the virus resurfaced following a more than three-month absence.
The man was positive after a mandatory pre-match test on Tuesday, despite having completed quarantine on Aug 27 after three prior negative tests, health officials told a news conference. The man, 29, arrived in Thailand on Aug 13.
Yong Poovorawan, a virology expert from Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, said the virus incubation period in the man would have been longer than 14 days and it was unlikely to have been domestically transmitted.
"I believe he was infected abroad," Yong said. By sealing off the country to all but returning Thai nationals and approved foreigners, and requiring all arrivals to quarantine, Thailand has kept coronavirus cases to just 3,461, the vast majority of which have recovered. The country has reported 58 deaths.
It had been more than 100 days without a domestic infection until a mysterious case appeared in Bangkok last week, with no travel history or known exposure to the virus.
Authorities have since tested hundreds of people who may have come in contact with the man, a DJ who was recently imprisoned.
There were 43 other people potentially exposed to the Uzbek soccer player but all had tested negative for the virus and were undergoing quarantine, said Sophon Iamsirithaworn, director of Bureau of General Communicable Diseases, adding 27 more individuals would be tested.
11 SEP 2020
ENGLAND'S COVID-19 INFECTIONS DOUBLING EACH WEEK: IMPERIAL COLLEGE STUDY
LONDON: The spread of the coronavirus is speeding up across all parts of England with the number of cases doubling about every week, according to a new study by Imperial College, which will fuel concerns that renewed restrictions may need be introduced.
The infection rate is rising in all age groups apart from those over 65, and cases are no longer clustering in hospitals or care homes as they were a few months ago, suggesting the virus is circulating more widely, Imperial found. The study, which involved testing more than 150,000 volunteers, found 13 per 10,000 people were infected in England in the two weeks ending Sep 7, compared to 4 per 10,000 in the same period ending Aug 11.
The signs of a new wave of infections emerged as people returned to offices and schools after the summer vacation. Matt Hancock, the health minister, urged people not to jeopardise hard-won gains made against the virus during a two-month lockdown earlier this year.
"The pandemic is not over, and everyone has a role to play to keep the virus at bay and avoid further restrictions," he said. "We've seen all across the world how a rise in cases, initially among younger people, leads to hospitalisations and fatalities." Earlier this week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced new restrictions on social gatherings, saying there was a clear need to act.
From Monday, gatherings of more than six people will be banned in England, after the number of new coronavirus infections across the United Kingdom has edged up to around 3,000 a day, from less than a third of that number a month ago.
The United Kingdom has suffered more than 65,000 excess deaths from coronavirus, according to the government’s statistics office, with a surge that lasted longer and spread to more places than those in other hard-hit European nations like Italy and Spain.
11 SEP 2020
SINGAPORE AND JAPAN TO LAUNCH 'GREEN LANE' FOR BUSINESS, OFFICIAL TRAVEL ON SEP 18
SINGAPORE: Singapore and Japan will launch a "reciprocal green lane" to facilitate essential business and official travel between the two countries on Sep 18, their foreign ministers said on Friday (Sep 11) in a joint press statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).
"The business track, which will be launched on Sep 18, 2020, will facilitate essential business and official travel for residents from both countries," said the statement. This is the first such framework that Japan will implement with another country, and will help restore connectivity and support economic recovery for Japan and Singapore, said MFA.
"The business track will allow the safe resumption of cross-border travel and business exchanges with the necessary public health safeguards in place," it added. These safeguards include pre-departure and post-arrival testing as well as the need to adhere to a controlled itinerary for the first 14 days in the receiving country.
Operational details including the requirements, health protocols and application process will be published on the SafeTravel website and the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs website by Sep 18.The announcement followed Japanese Foreign Minister Motegi Toshimitsu's official visit to Singapore last month, where he called on and was hosted to lunch by his Singapore counterpart Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, and paid a courtesy call to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the Istana. The ministers, in a joint statement issued by MFA, said they agreed on the "major points" of the Business Track (Reciprocal Green Lane) for short-term business travellers.
They also welcomed ongoing negotiations on the setting up of a special "Residence Track" as early as September which will provide "special quota of cross-border travel by business executives and business professionals (work pass holders)" with the necessary public health safeguards in place, including a 14-day stay-home notice upon arrival in the respective countries.
Singapore currently has cross-border travel arrangements with China, Malaysia, Brunei and South Korea. On Thursday, the Singapore Consulate-General in Hong Kong said it welcomed discussions with Hong Kong on the gradual resumption of travel between both sides. Singapore has also said that it would expedite ongoing discussions for green lane travel arrangement with Thailand, and would begin similar discussions with Indonesia.
11 SEP 2020
MALAYSIA'S HEALTH MINISTRY LOOKING INTO FULLY REOPENING BORDER WITH SINGAPORE
ISKANDAR PUTERI, Johor: Malaysia’s Health Ministry is looking into fully reopening the Malaysia-Singapore border for daily commutes, minister Adham Baba said on Friday (Sep 11). He said that the plan to reopen the border came after pressure from the public, whose livelihood had been affected by the border closures.
“The extension of the Recovery Movement Control Order (RMCO) until December is a crucial period for the ministry to determine the best time to allow the opening of the border for daily commuters,” Dr Adham told the media after the launch of a Lego mural dedicated to COVID-19 frontliners at the Legoland theme park.
“This is because during this period, we will be able to assess and acquire valuable input from both countries, including methods to reduce COVID-19 infection.”
Dr Adham stressed that the ministry would utilise the data and follow the stipulated regulations to prevent claims of not doing its best in controlling the disease and not taking care of the people’s well-being.
He added that the ministry is planning to double the number of swab tests conducted over the Reciprocal Green Lane (RGL) and Periodic Commuting Arrangement (PCA) schemes. Currently, 2,000 swab tests are carried out daily under the PCA scheme and 400 under the RGL scheme.
Both schemes went into effect last month. Under the PCA, Singapore and Malaysia citizens or permanent residents who hold long-term immigration passes for business and work purposes will be allowed to enter the other country for work. The RGL, on the other hand, will allow Singapore and Malaysia residents to do shorter-term travel for essential business and official purposes for up to 14 days.
On Sep 3, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin expressed hope that Singapore and Malaysia would soon finalise arrangements for daily commuting of workers between both countries. Johor’s Chief Minister Hasni Mohammad, who was also present at Friday's event, said the state government would continue to push for reopening the border.
10 SEP 2020
SPEAK SOFTLY AND SCATTER FEWER CORONAVIRUS PARTICLES, SAY RESEARCHERS
TOKYO: More quiet zones in high-risk indoor spaces, such as hospitals and restaurants, could help to cut coronavirus contagion risks, researchers have said, after a study showed that lowering speaking volume can reduce the spread of the disease.
In efforts to rein in transmission, a reduction of six decibels in average speech levels can have the same effect as doubling a room's ventilation, scientists said on Wednesday (Sep 10), in an advance copy of a paper detailing their study. "The results suggest that public health authorities should consider implementing 'quiet zones' in high-risk indoor environments, such as hospital waiting rooms or dining facilities," wrote the six researchers from the University of California, Davis.
The World Health Organization changed its guidance in July to acknowledge the possibility of aerosol transmission, such as during choir practice, or when in restaurants or fitness classes. Microscopic droplets ejected while speaking evaporate to leave behind aerosol particles big enough to carry viable virus, the paper showed. An increase of about 35 decibels in loudness, or the difference between whispering and shouting, boosts the particle emission rate by 50 times.
Normal conversation is above the 10-decibel range, while ambient noise in restaurants is around 70. "Not all indoor environments are equal in terms of aerosol transmission risk," said lead researcher William Ristenpart.
"A crowded but quiet classroom is much less dangerous than an uncrowded karaoke bar where patrons are socially distanced but talking and singing over loud music."
9 SEP 2020
US COVID-19 DEATHS NEAR 190,000; IOWA AND SOUTH DAKOTA EMERGE AS NEW HOTSPOTS
WASHINGTON: Coronavirus deaths in the United States topped 190,000 on Wednesday (Sep 9) along with a spike in new cases in the US Midwest with states like Iowa and South Dakota emerging as the new hotspots in the past few weeks.
Iowa currently has one of the highest rates of infection in the nation, with 15 per cent of tests last week coming back positive. Nearby South Dakota has a positive test rate of 19 per cent and North Dakota is at 18 per cent, according to a Reuters analysis.
The surge in Iowa and South Dakota is being linked to colleges reopening in Iowa and an annual motorcycle rally last month in Sturgis, South Dakota.
Kansas, Idaho and Missouri are also among the top 10 states for positive test rates.
New coronavirus infections have fallen for seven weeks in a row for the United States with a death rate of about 6,100 per week from COVID-19 in the last month.
On a per capita basis, the United States ranks 12th in the world for the number of deaths, with 58 deaths per 100,000 people, and 11th in the world for cases, with 1,933 cases per 100,000 residents, according to a Reuters analysis.
US confirmed cases are highest in the world with now over 6.3 million followed by India with 4.4 million cases and Brazil with 4.2 million. The US death toll is also the highest in the world.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had forecast last month that the US death toll will reach 200,000 to 211,000 by Sep 26. The University of Washington's health institute last week forecasted that the US deaths from the coronavirus will reach 410,000 by the end of the year.
9 SEP 2020
ASTRAZENECA PUTS LEADING COVID-19 VACCINE TRIAL ON HOLD OVER SAFETY CONCERN
NEW YORK: Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca on Tuesday (Sep 8) said it has paused global trials, including large late-stage trials, of its experimental coronavirus vaccine because of an unexplained illness in a study participant.
The vaccine, developed with the University of Oxford, has been widely seen as one of the leading global candidates against the coronavirus, and the suspension of the trial dims prospects for a potential year-end rollout its lead developer had signalled earlier.
AstraZeneca said it voluntarily paused trials to allow review of safety data by an independent committee and was working to expedite the review of the single event to minimize any potential impact on the trial timeline. "This is a routine action which has to happen whenever there is a potentially unexplained illness in one of the trials," the company said in an emailed statement.
The nature of the illness and when it happened were not detailed, although the participant is expected to recover, according to Stat News, which first reported the suspension due to a "suspected serious adverse reaction". The US Food and Drug Administration defines that as an adverse event in which evidence suggests a possible relationship to the drug being tested.
According to a New York Times report which cited a person familiar with the situation, a participant based in the United Kingdom was found to have transverse myelitis, an inflammatory syndrome that affects the spinal cord and is often sparked by viral infections.
Whether the illness was directly linked to AstraZeneca's vaccine remains unclear, the report said. AstraZeneca declined to comment on the report. The suspension of the trial has impacted other AstraZeneca vaccine trials - as well as clinical trials being conducted by other vaccine makers, which are looking for signs of similar reactions, Stat said.
The US National Institutes of Health, which is providing funding for AstraZeneca's trial, declined to comment. Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock said on Wednesday that AstraZeneca's decision to pause the trial was a challenge but would not necessarily set back efforts to develop a vaccine.
AstraZeneca's statement said that "in large trials, illnesses will happen by chance but must be independently reviewed to check this carefully". Trials of the vaccine, called AZD1222, are under way at different stages in Britain, the United States, Brazil, South Africa and India. Trials are also planned in Japan and Russia.
Nine leading US and European vaccine developers pledged on Tuesday to uphold scientific safety and efficacy standards for their experimental vaccines despite the urgency to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
The companies, including AstraZeneca, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline, issued what they called a "historic pledge" after a rise in concern that safety standards might slip in the face of political pressure to rush out a vaccine.
The companies said they would "uphold the integrity of the scientific process as they work towards potential global regulatory filings and approvals of the first COVID-19 vaccines". The other signatories were Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co, Moderna, Novavax, Sanofi and BioNTech.
Separately, the World Health Organization (WHO)'s chief scientist said on Wednesday that the safety of a prospective vaccine comes "first and foremost". "Just because we talk about speed ... it doesn't mean we start compromising or cutting corners on what would normally be assessed," Dr Soumya Swaminathan said on a social media event.
9 SEP 2020
STRENGTHENING MEASURES FOR SAFE RE-OPENING OF ACTIVITIES ( Source : adapted from MOH)
The Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) has been closely monitoring the local and global COVID-19 situation. While local community transmission is currently low, we cannot let our guard down. The MTF will continue to review the latest evidence on COVID-19, and put in place strategies to manage new infections at the dormitories, ensure a calibrated safe reopening of activities including enhancing our TraceTogether (TT) programme and SafeEntry, and safe reopening of our borders.
MANAGEMENT OF DORMITORY CASES
We have observed cases of COVID-19 infections among the cleared dormitories. The dormitory residents who have never been infected remain susceptible to COVID-19. Since the dormitories were declared cleared on 11 August, there have been about 45 of such cases daily. These were detected primarily through active surveillance testing such as Rostered Routine Testing (RRT), and through aggressive tracing and testing whenever a new case is detected. About 2% of these cases have positive serological tests, which indicate past infections.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has put in place a multi-layered strategy to detect any new COVID-19 cases in the dormitories and to contain infections quickly and decisively:
- To prevent the spread and formation of large clusters, MOM has put in place “Safe Living, Safe Working and Safe Rest Day” measures in the dormitories. Before dormitory residents are allowed to return to work, the dormitory operators have to implement various physical distancing measures in the dormitories to limit inter-mixing of residents across rooms, levels and blocks, as well as when using common facilities and during transport to and from worksites. Dormitory operators must also monitor their residents’ health and take necessary precautions, so that residents who are unwell are quickly isolated and provided with medical treatment.
- To swiftly detect new cases of infection, MOM has deployed a number of strategies including (i) self-monitoring by migrant workers and regular updating of their health status; (ii) close monitoring of workers who report sick at medical posts with acute respiratory illnesses; (iii) conducting wastewater testing at selected dormitories for traces of the virus as a means of early sentinel surveillance; and (iv) conducting RRT for dormitory residents every 14 days. In particular, the RRT has helped to pick up new COVID-19 cases in the dormitories. It is therefore critical for employers to enrol all their workers who are required to be tested under the RRT.
- If a new case is detected, MOM will quickly ring-fence and test close contacts to contain its spread. Close contacts will be quarantined and must be tested negative at the end of their quarantine period before they are able to return to work. Aggressive testing operations will also be conducted within the dormitories based on an assessment of the risk of potential spread.
MOM will continue to update and adjust its multi-layered strategy to proactively manage cases in the dormitory, in consultation with health experts as new insights are gained about how the virus spreads. MOM will also continue to engage employers and dormitory operators on the measures to safeguard our migrant workers.
ENHANCEMENT TO TRACE TOGETHER PROGRAMME AND SAFEENTRY
To support the safe and gradual resumption of activities, the MTF will also be enhancing the TT Programme and SafeEntry to facilitate rapid and comprehensive contact tracing, so as to mitigate risks of onward transmission and formation of large clusters.
TT Token Distribution to the General Public
To enable more Singapore residents to be protected by the TT Programme, the Government will commence nation-wide distribution of the TT Tokens from 14 September 2020, and we aim to complete the distribution by November. The TT Token is available for free for all residents in Singapore. We encourage every resident in Singapore to either download the TT App onto their mobile phone, or to collect a TT Token. A higher adoption rate makes the TT programme and contact tracing efforts more efficient and effective.
We will begin distribution starting with the Jalan Besar and Tanjong Pagar regions, where there is a higher concentration of elderly who may have more challenges using the TT App and are more vulnerable to COVID-19. Collection points will be extended throughout Singapore progressively. Residents can go to the TokenGoWhere website (https://token.gowhere.gov.sg) for more details on the collection sites and timing. Those who wish to collect the Token earlier can visit any of the active collection sites listed on the TokenGoWhere website to do so.
Pilot TraceTogether-Only SafeEntry Check-in for Designated Places
To facilitate contact tracing efforts, we will be piloting the deployment of SafeEntry that requires the use of either the TT App or Token to check in at selected venues, to facilitate the further easing of measures at these settings.
This “TT-only SafeEntry” will first be piloted at selected venues, and will be expanded over time, once the national distribution of the TT tokens is well under way. These could include venues where there may be larger groups coming together, especially where there is close interaction among attendees; or where masks may not be worn at all times due to the nature of the activities. Supplementing SafeEntry with proximity data from TT will enhance safety for participants, as they will be ensured of coverage under the TT Programme. This will ensure better confidence in mitigating the risk of formation of large clusters, and could allow for a safer increase in capacity limits at these events and premises with any potential future easing of measures. This was trialled at the first Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions (MICE) event held at the end of August, with more pilots starting progressively from September 2020.
New Service launched to Self-Monitor Health based on SafeEntry Records
From 10 September, we will introduce a new Self-Check service and SMS service so that people can be alerted if they have visited the same venues at the same time as COVID-19 cases, based on their own SafeEntry records.
Self-Check service will be available on the TraceTogether app. Individuals can also access the Self-Check service via SingPass Mobile, or wereyouthere.safeentry.gov.sg (with SingPass login). In addition, from 10 September, SMS alerts will be sent to a smaller group of individuals who were at locations assessed to pose a higher risk of transmission at the same time as COVID-19 cases. These include dining places and gyms where people do not wear masks for extended periods of time.
These features will help everyone to play their part to stay ahead of the pandemic, and keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. The Smart Nation and Digital Government Group (SNDGG) will be providing more details on the various TT and SafeEntry measures in a separate press release.
SAFE RE-OPENING OF ACTIVITIES
Enabling More Workers to Return to Workplaces Safely
MOM is working with tripartite partners on the next phase of Safe Management Measures (SMMs) for workplaces. As we gradually resume more economic activities, many employers have sought guidance on ways to enable more employees to return to the workplace safely so as to better support work and business operations. With increased interactions at the workplace, the risk of COVID-19 transmission increases. Therefore it is critical that employers implement their safe management measures seriously, and ensure that safe distancing is adhered to.
Further, employers need to implement flexible workplace hours, so that a good part of workers are able to travel off-peak, i.e. after 0930 hours. This would help to mitigate the risk of crowding in public places as well as office buildings with more individuals commuting to and from work especially during peak hours. It is in the interest of the employers to protect your workers against the risk of COVID-19. Otherwise, if a cluster is formed at the workplace, it would disrupt business severely.
Stepping up Enforcement of SMM Breaches at Food and Beverage (F&B) outlets
We remain very concerned about SMM breaches at F&B outlets. Dining out is an activity that involves considerable risks because people are gathered together in an enclosed space, without their masks on, and for a prolonged duration. That is why the SMMs are in place to ensure that our F&B outlets can be safe spaces for all. While the majority are complying with the rules, we continue to observe SMM breaches at some F&B outlets, especially those at popular nightspots. These breaches include the sale and consumption of alcohol after 10.30pm, individuals not wearing masks as required, gathering in groups of more than five and intermingling between groups (especially in a private room), seating customers less than one-metre apart, and the playing of loud music.
For example, Enterprise Singapore fined five establishments for failing to ensure a minimum one-metre safe distance between groups of diners on 6 September 2020; Singapore Food Agency (SFA) issued fines and suspended the operations of a bar and two restaurants for SMM breaches last week, and Singapore Tourism Board (STB) ordered a restaurant to cease operations for flouting SMMs on 5 September 2020. Since the start of Phase II, around 20 F&B establishments have been suspended.
We will continue to step up enforcement checks at F&B outlets and will take appropriate action against businesses and individuals who breach the SMMs. Thus far, agencies have typically issued warnings for the first offence. By now, sufficient time has been given for everyone to adjust to the SMMs. So with immediate effect, agencies will take enforcement actions even for the first offenders. This will be in the form of a fine or a closure of the premise, depending on the severity of the offence. For example, if there are multiple breaches of SMMs in any one place, we will require the premise to be closed and also surface the case to the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) for possible prosecution. We urge premise owners to ensure SMMs are properly implemented and members of the public to be socially responsible, and do their part to observe the SMMs.
Requiring Pre-Departure Tests (PDT) for Travellers from India
We have been closely monitoring the COVID-19 situation in India. There have been reports of a resurgence of infections in India. Singapore has also observed a significant number of imported cases with recent travel history to India.
To reduce the risk of importation of cases from India, travellers who are not Singapore Citizens or Permanent Residents and who have recent travel history to India within the last 14 days prior to entry will be required to take a COVID-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test within 72 hours before departure. Travellers will need to present a valid negative COVID-19 test result as a condition of approval to enter Singapore. This requirement will take effect for those arriving in Singapore from 17 September 2020, 0000 hours, and will apply on top of the existing requirements of a 14-day Stay-Home Notice (SHN) at dedicated SHN facilities and a negative COVID-19 test before the end of their SHN.
As the global situation evolves, we will continue to adjust our border measures to manage the risk of importation and any onward transmission to the community. Travellers planning to enter Singapore should be prepared to be subjected to the prevailing border measures upon entry, including payment for their stay at dedicated SHN facilities and tests, where applicable.
9 SEP 2020
FURTHER RESUMPTION OF ACTIVITIES FOR SENIORS ACTIVITIES (Source : adapted from MOH)
The Multi-Ministry Taskforce will be resuming more senior-centric activities carefully as community infection rates have remained generally low and stable. As more activities resume, we urge seniors to remain vigilant, conscientiously practise hand hygiene and safe distancing and to continue to keep to a small regular circle of contacts when going out.
Resuming activities to address the psycho-social needs of seniors
Small group activities of up to 5 pax may resume for senior-centric programmes organised by the People's Association, Health Promotion Board, Sport Singapore, and the Council for Third Age. They will also be allowed to resume in our eldercare facilities (i.e. Nursing Homes, Senior Care Centres, Active Ageing Hubs, Senior Activity Centres, Community Resource, Engagement and Support Team centres). Examples of group activities include board games and group exercise classes. At the start of Phase Two, we had limited activities in such settings to only those that can be done individually so as to keep interactions low. Nevertheless, group activities are an integral part of senior-centric programmes as they help address psychosocial needs and contribute to better health outcomes. From 9 September 2020, we will ease the earlier restrictions so that more seniors can benefit from these programmes, so long as safe distancing measures are in place.
Outreach activities by eldercare programmes and Silver Generation Office to resume
They will also resume proactive outreach by Silver Generation Ambassadors, Senior Activity Centres, Community Resource, Engagement and Support Teams and diabetes outreach activities from 9 September 2020 with safe distancing measures in place. While health and social care services are available, some seniors may not know where to seek help and may have deferred accessing community care services. This would affect their health if the deferment is prolonged. We will resume outreach programmes to ensure we can proactively engage seniors with care needs and render assistance in a timely manner.
Staying safe and healthy in the new COVID-normal
During this COVID-19 pandemic, some seniors may be hesitant to go for medical appointments for fear of being exposed to COVID-19 at healthcare institutions or care facilities. To avoid potential deterioration of their medical conditions and allow for timely attention to other health needs, we urge seniors to continue to attend their medical appointments. Healthcare providers would have put in place the necessary precautions for patients to access services and receive treatments safely. Older patients in need of assistance may reach out to their respective public healthcare institutions or contact the AIC Hotline at 1800-650-6060.
We will continue to monitor the situation closely, with the aim of continuing to ease measures until we reach a new normal in Phase Three. We will be able to stay safe and progress towards a new normal so long as everyone plays their part and exercises social responsibility.
8 SEP 2020
US, EUROPEAN COVID-19 VACCINE DEVELOPERS PLEDGE TO UPHOLD TESTING RIGOUR
FRANKFURT: Nine leading US and European vaccine developers pledged on Tuesday (Sep 8) to uphold the scientific standards their experimental immunisations will be held against in the global race to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
The companies, including Pfizer, GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca, issued what they called a "historic pledge" after a rise in concern that safety and efficacy standards might slip in the rush to find a vaccine.
The companies said in a statement they would "uphold the integrity of the scientific process as they work towards potential global regulatory filings and approvals of the first COVID-19 vaccines". The other signatories were Johnson & Johnson, Merck & Co, Moderna, Novavax, Sanofi and BioNTech.
The promise to play by established rules underlines a highly politicised debate over what action is needed to rein in COVID-19 quickly and to jumpstart global business and trade.
The head of the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said last month COVID-19 vaccines may not necessarily need to complete Phase Three clinical trials - large-scale testing intended to demonstrate safety and efficacy - as long as officials are convinced the benefits outweigh the risks. This prompted a call for caution from the World Health Organization (WHO).
Developers globally have yet to produce large-scale trial data showing actual infections in participants, yet Russia granted approval to a COVID-19 vaccine last month, prompting some Western experts to criticise a lack of testing. The head of China's Sinovac Biotech has said most of its employees and their families have already taken an experimental vaccine developed by the Chinese firm under the country's emergency-use programme. Chinese companies or institutions, which are involved in several leading vaccine projects, did not sign the statement.
PROMISE ON SAFETY AND EFFICACY
"We want it to be known that also in the current situation we are not willing to compromise safety and efficacy," said co-signatory Ugur Sahin, chief executive of Pfizer's German partner BioNTech.
"Apart from the pressure and the hope for a vaccine to be available as fast as possible, there is also a lot of uncertainty among people that some development steps may be omitted here."
BioNTech and Pfizer could unveil pivotal trial data as early as October, potentially placing them at the centre of bitter US politics before the Nov 3 presidential election.
The nine companies said they would follow established guidance from expert regulatory authorities such as the FDA.
Among other hurdles, approval must be based on large, diverse clinical trials with comparative groups that do not receive the vaccine in question. Participants and those working on the trial must not know which group they belong to, according to the pledge.
BioNTech's Sahin said there must be statistical certainty of 95 per cent, in some cases higher, and that a positive reading on efficacy does not come just from random variations but reflects the underlying workings of the compound.
The development race has intensified safety concerns about an inoculation, polls have shown. Western regulators have said they would not cut corners but rather prioritise the review workload and allow for development steps in parallel that would normally be handled consecutively.
8 SEP 2020
SOUTH KOREA'S CELLTRION TO BEGIN COMMERCIAL PRODUCTION OF COVID-19 ANTIBODY DRUG
SEOUL: South Korea's Celltrion Inc will begin commercial production of its experimental treatment for COVID-19 this month, it said on Tuesday (Sep 8), as it pushes ahead with clinical trials of the antibody drug.
The company said it planned to make a request soon to regulators for emergency use authorisation of the drug, but that it would start mass production - likely to amount to around 1 million doses - before receiving that approval. The treatment became the country's first COVID-19 antibody drug to be tested on humans after receiving regulatory approval in July for clinical trials.
"We have confirmed the safety of the antiviral antibody drug in the process of the local Phase I clinical trial," Kwon Ki-sung, head of Celltrion's R&D unit, told Reuters. Celltrion completed a Phase I trial on 32 volunteers in the country and is enrolling an additional nine participants for another Phase I study before moving on to later-stage trials, for which regulatory reviews are already underway.
The company is separately conducting overseas human trials of its treatment in the United Kingdom, which will be followed by global second and third stage trials in patients with mild and moderate symptoms.