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Singapore’s circuit breaker measures: Do we flip the switch to Dorscon Red?

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As Singapore enters into the first week of our nationwide circuit breaker mode, shuttered shops, closed malls and empty streets are a sight to behold as our city grinds to a halt for one month.

Also read: Top 10 questions about COVID-19 – answers by experts compiled.

Singapore’s applied “circuit breakers” have taken effect from April 7 onwards for four weeks, till May 4, 2020. In a nutshell, all businesses, workplaces, schools and services which are deemed non-essential would come to a standstill and all Singaporeans are to adhere to strict social distancing and stay-at-home regulations.

“Why are we having this circuit breaker?”

In Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s words, “despite our good contact tracing, for nearly half of these cases, we do not know where or from whom the person caught the virus. He also mentioned that there are more Singaporeans out there who are affected, but have not yet been identified. [1]

We’ve put together four reasons:

#1. The number of new COVID-19 cases have been rising.

In the few weeks leading up to 3 April, Singapore was seeing typically 50 to 70 new cases of COVID-19 per day. The situation did not seem to be abating in spite of Singapore’s efficient contact tracing which was hailed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Harvard epidemiologists just weeks ago as the gold standard of near-perfect detection”. [2]

#2. The new COVID-19 cases are local cases with no recent travel history.

Let’s take a look at the COVID-19 numbers two days before the circuit breaker announcement:

On 1 April 2020, out of the 74 new COVID-19 infections in Singapore, 54 are local cases with no recent travel history abroad. [3] On 2 April 2020, there were 49 new cases of COVID-19 infections in Singapore, out of which 41 are local cases with no recent travel history abroad. [4]

The ministry also confirms that most of the cases have arisen from Singaporeans coming into close contact with an infected individual locally that could have occurred in social, workplace or family settings. [5]

Previously, almost all of our COVID-19 infection cases were people who travelled overseas and returned to Singapore. However, now that the local cases have surpassed imported cases, it indicates a worrying problem that the virus has taken root in the Singapore community.

#3. Majority of these new local cases of COVID-19 nowadays are unlinked.

Out of the 54 new local cases of COVID-19 infection that were tallied on April 1, almost half of these cases were unlinked, i.e. we don’t know where or whom these people got infected from. [3] On April 2, out of the 41 new local cases of COVID-19, 15 cases were unlinked. [4]

Contact tracing is ongoing for these cases and if they remain unlinked to any known COVID-19 clusters, it would suggest that the COVID-19 situation is slowly but surely spiralling out of our control. When undetected, the virus could spread like wildfire, evolving into an outbreak that cannot be contained.

Globally, the COVID-19 virus is estimated to have an R-0 (pronounced R-nought) of between 2 to 3. The R-0 refers to the reproduction number of a disease. In other words, it refers to how many people an infected person will go on to spread the disease to. This means that someone infected with COVID-19 will, on average, go on to spread it to 2 to 3 people. [6]

It sounds terrible, I know, but we also should note that the R-0 is only indicative of the disease’s transmissibility without the presence of control or measures. That is why the circuit breaker measures – or any measure – to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus is key to put a halt on this virus.

#4. Migrant workers’ dormitories turn into Covid-19 hotspot and opens up a whole new battlefield against the virus

We are grappling with an alarming rise in number of Covid-19 cases locally. On 12 April, we faced the biggest surge in Covid-19 daily cases. 233 new cases of Covid-19 infections were reported and out of these cases, 161 were unlinked cases. This sharp spike in cases have arisen predominantly from migrant workers who are Work Permit holders and are currently residing in dormitories, work sites and other living quarters. [7]

As many as 7 in 10 new Covid-19 cases in Singapore have been reported to be linked to foreign worker dormitories. Virus clusters include the Westlite Toh Guan dormitory, Punggol S11 Dormitory as well as Shaw Lodge. [8]

In response, our government is currently providing on-site support such as food, supplies, Wifi and are working with their employers to ensure that they are still being paid despite being in quarantine.

What’s the COVID-19 situation in Singapore looking like now?

As of today, there are now a total of 2,532 cases of COVID-19 here in Singapore, according to the Ministry of Health.

The entire city is on lockdown, with essential services operating only. Singaporeans now face stricter measures of staying at home and only stepping outside for essential errands, such as buying food or groceries. It is also a law to practice social distancing according to signs and guidelines in public. In addition, it is now mandatory to wear a mask whenever outside.

This escalation in measures that we Singaporeans face brings up the elephant in the room – does this mean we’re on Dorscon red right now?

Flipping the switch to Dorscon Red?”

Dorscon stands for “Disease Outbreak Response System Condition’, a colour-coded framework that indicates the current situation of the disease. [9]

What we are on right now – Dorscon Orange – indicates that the “disease is severe and spreads easily from person to person, but has not spread widely in Singapore and is being contained”. This explanation is subjective, since “not spread widely” can be defined differently.

With reference to the table above, under Dorscon Orange, there is only a “moderate disruption”. Examples given are: quarantine, temperature taking, visitor restrictions at hospitals and Dorscon Orange is likened to what we experienced during the SARS pandemic.

However, with the circuit breaker measures implemented, do we flip the switch to Dorscon Red? Clearly, things have changed.

For one, we’re facing major disruptions as per the description of Dorscon Red: school closures, work from home orders, etc, as well as practice social distancing and avoid crowded areas.

There’s also a new law that was quickly passed just a few days ago that prohibits social gatherings of any size – in homes or in public spaces. The Act lists only 12 situations whereby an individual may leave his or her home:

  1. To work for or with an essential service provider, specified school or an early childhood development centre
  2. To procure goods or services from an essential service provider or specified school
  3. To obtain medical treatment for Covid-19 or that is of a pressing nature
  4. To engage in any recreational activity in an open-air stadium, public path or park alone or with any individual who lives with you
  5. Where an individual works for or with an essential service provider
  6. To assist any individual with a physical or mental disability, or is below 12 years of age or 60 years of age, with daily needs
  7. To report for enlistment or service under the Enlistment Act
  8. To report to a law enforcement officer or to attend any court in accordance with any warrant, summons or order made under any written law or court of order
  9. To be present at any place in accordance with a requirement under any written law
  10. To seek or render help in an emergency
  11. To move to another place of accommodation
  12. To leave Singapore

The Covid-19 pandemic is also having impacts on our lives like we’ve never experienced, unlike SARS, which is likened to Dorscon Orange.

There is also the question of community spread, with rising number of new local cases every day, and whether this is under control.

But all things considered, we do trust that our government is doing its best to cope with the truly evolving nature of this Covid-19 virus situation. It’s not something easy to deal with; perhaps once the widespread transmission in workers’ dormitories is effectively managed, the numbers will (finally) start falling and we can have some semblance of our lives back.

To be fair, I’m sure they’ve considered that the switch up in Dorscon would invariably generate more fear and panicked buying (remember, all that toilet paper hoarding??).

Ultimately, whether we are on Dorscon Red or Orange, it’s just a colour. What’s important is that we nip this virus in the bud and really curb the transmission of the Covid-19 in our home country.

Also read: Covid-19: Kick the coronavirus in the ass with these tips

References:

[1] Channel News Asia (2020). In full: PM Lee’s address on enhanced measures to deal with COVID-19 situation in Singapore. Retrieved from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/singapore/coronavirus-covid-19-lee-hsien-loong-update-address-nation-tv-12606328

[2] Vaswani, K. (2020). Coronavirus: The detectives racing to contain the virus. in Singapore. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51866102

[3] Ministry of Health, Singapore (2020). Five more cases discharged; 74 new cases of COVID-19 infection confirmed. Retrieved from https://www.moh.gov.sg/news-highlights/details/five-more-cases-discharged-74-new-cases-of-covid-19-infection-confirmed

[4] Ministry of Health, Singapore (2020). 21 more cases discharged; 49 new cases of COVID-19 infection confirmed. Retrieved from https://www.moh.gov.sg/news-highlights/details/21-more-cases-discharged-49-new-cases-of-covid-19-infection-confirmed

[5] Ministry of Health, Singapore (2020). Circuit breaker to minimize further spread of Covid-19. Retrieved from https://www.moh.gov.sg/news-highlights/details/circuit-breaker-to-minimise-further-spread-of-covid-19

[6] The Straits Times (2020). How circuit breaker measures help to prevent spread of Covid-19 as scientists race for cure. Retrieved from https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/how-circuit-breaker-measures-help-to-prevent-spread-of-virus-as-scientists-race-for

[7] Ministry of Health, Singapore (2020). 32 more cases discharged; 233 new cases of Covid-19 infection confirmed.

[8] The Straits Times. (2020). Coronavirus: 7 in 10 new Covid-19 cases in Singapore linked to foreign worker dormitories.

[9] Gov.sg (2020). What do the different DORSCON levels mean. Retrieved from https://www.gov.sg/article/what-do-the-different-dorscon-levels-mean

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