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COVID-19 Updates: What You Should Know

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Singapore has undertaken more measures in order to control the virus within the country and re-open the economy. These new measures come as the country is heading towards Phase 3, a “new normal” for society until a vaccine for the virus is found.

Ramping up testing of migrant workers

One of these measures is to contain the spread of the virus among migrant workers, who have made up the vast majority of COVID-19 cases in Singapore. The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and Health Promotion Board (HPB) announced that nine more in-dorm facilities to conduct routine testing of workers will be added by the end of October.

There are also plans to increase the number of regional screening centers to as many as 30 by the end of the year, from the current 20 centers, with about two-thirds of these sites conducting routine testing.

In addition, one dormitory will also be piloting additional testing, which would increase the testing frequency to a seven-day cycle from the usual 14 days. This is in hopes that it will help authorities understand how frequent testing will enable earlier detection of asymptomatic cases.

To accommodate the workers’ work schedules, some of the in-dormitory testing will offer night swabs. This new change is estimated to benefit more than 35,000 workers as they resume going back to work.

Phase 3 Antibody Trial

COVID-19 patients who are currently hospitalised will now have a new treatment option: to take part in Singapore’s first Phase 3 monoclonal antibody trial.

The monoclonal antibody, named Activ-3, was developed by American pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly. It is a purified, highly active antibody that targets the spike protein of the coronavirus.

Phase one trials have shown that it is safe and can improve patients’ symptoms and reduce their viral load.

How it works

Activ-3 enrols COVID-19 patients who are sick enough to be hospitalised. Patients who provide informed consent will be randomly allocated to one of two study arms: monoclonal antibody or placebo. This means that patients will get either the antibody or a placebo, and both groups will also be given the antiviral drug remdesivir.

Patients may also be given the steroid dexamethasone, a drug that broadly suppresses the body’s immune response and can be used to treat severe asthma and severe allergic reactions, if the doctor deems it suitable.

Local patients in the Activ-3 trial will be monitored for 90 days and seen daily for the first five days. This is to observe possible side effects and determine how they are responding to treatment.

Cruises to nowhere

In a bid to boost the tourism sector, one of the hardest hit since the start of the pandemic, the Singapore Tourism Board announced on 8 October that two cruise lines, Genting Cruise Lines’ World Dream, and Royal Caribbean International Quantum of the Seas, will be allowed to offer local residents “cruises to nowhere” from 6 November, under a pilot programme with enhanced safety protocols and mandatory COVID-19 testing for passengers and crew.

“This cruise pilot is a valuable opportunity for cruise operators to reinvent the entire cruise experience in order to regain the confidence of passengers,” Singapore Tourism Board Chief Executive Keith Tan said in a statement. “As ASEAN’s lead coordinator for cruise development, Singapore remains committed to supporting and growing cruise tourism in the region.”

The cruises will have round-trips with no ports of call and sail at a capacity of up to 50 per cent.

How do Singaporeans feel about this?

In a survey conducted by the Straits Times with more than 1,000 respondents, 51 per cent gave the cruises to nowhere a thumbs up, and 49 per cent expressed that they were against the idea.

Those who did not agree with the launch of the cruises cited a lack of confidence in the safety measures against COVID-19, while the other half of respondents welcomed the option for a getaway amidst travel bans.

The response could be attributed to how cruises were previously a hotbed for COVID-19 infections. One notable incident was the Diamond Princess, which resulted in the quarantine of more than 3,700 passengers. More than 700 of them were infected with the virus.

However, experts have noted that the guidelines for passengers and crew members are stricter than those imposed on other attractions. Professor Jeremy Lim, director of the Leadership Institute for Global Health Transformation at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health said, “Given the very low community prevalence of the virus and the requirement of a negative test before boarding, the risk of an infection is low.”

 

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