Huge jump puts Singapore’s virus caseload ahead of neighbours – dpa international


Though it has a population more than 5 times bigger, Singapore’s neighbour Malaysia has reported fewer Covid-19 cases. Malaysia has been on lockdown since March 18, leaving thoroughfares such as this Kuala Lumpur street mostly empty for weeks (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — Singapore’s Health Ministry confirmed 1,426 new cases of Covid-19 on Monday, by far the biggest daily increase seen in the country.

The spike takes Singapore’s caseload to 8,014, meaning the city-state, which has a population of 5.8 million, has reported more incidences of Covid-19 – the respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus – than any other country in South-East Asia.

Indonesia, home to an estimated 270 million people, had reported 6,760 cases by Monday evening, while the Philippines, which has a population of over 100 million, had confirmed 6,459 cases by Monday afternoon.

The disparity in numbers likely reflects relatively-widespread Covid-19 testing in Singapore, which is by far the wealthiest country per capita in the region.

In contrast to Singapore, Malaysia on Monday evening reported 36 new cases of Covid-19, the lowest daily increase since March 14. The 98 new recoveries announced by the Ministry of Health mean that 60 per cent of Malaysia’s 5,425 cases have recovered.

Singapore has confirmed 11 deaths related to Covid-19, far fewer fatalities than in Indonesia and the Philippines, where 590 and 428 people respectively have died. 89 people have died in Malaysia after being infected.

Most of the new cases announced in Singapore on Monday “are work permit holders residing in foreign worker dormitories,” according to the Health Ministry.

Almost all of Singapore’s new cases of Covid-19 reported over the past two weeks have been among migrant workers, who make up almost 1.4 million of the city-state’s population.

Around 200,000 workers, most of them young male construction-site employees from across Asia, sleep 10-20 to a room.

In an attempt to separate healthy workers from those infected, the government is carrying out “aggressive” testing in over 40 government-sanctioned foreign-worker dormitories, from where most of the new cases have emerged.

Some workers have been moved to vacant public housing and to army barracks, with 1,300 more beds made available on ships for healthy workers.

One month ago Singapore had confirmed just 313 cases of Covid-19, a relatively low number that saw the government win international plaudits as the pandemic surged across Europe.

Experience of the 2002-3 severe acute respiratory system (SARS) outbreak meant that, despite relative proximity to China – the source of the pandemic and of around a fifth of Singapore’s tourist numbers – Singapore had an off-the-shelf mix of testing, meticulous contact-tracing and strict quarantining ready this time.

However by April 1, Singapore’s caseload had jumped to 1,000 as infections emerged in the crowded dormitories.

An affluent trade and finance hub, Singapore did not impose the lockdowns seen in Malaysia and the Philippines until April 7, with the government conceding that “circuit breaker” measures were needed to stem the rise in cases.

However by Friday National Development Minister Lawrence Wong was warning Singaporeans to be “prepared for future waves of infection,” raising the prospect of “a long fight” against the coronavirus.

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