Singapore is struggling to contain a new outbreak of coronavirus after a sudden increase in cases among the city’s migrant worker army, highlighting the challenge of returning to normal even for countries that appeared to have brought the epidemic under control.
The city-state, which had won praise for its rapid initial response to the epidemic earlier this year, announced an almost total foreclosure after reporting an increase in the number of new cases in recent days. The total number of infections jumped 60% in the past week to 1,481, including 106 on Tuesday and 120 on Sunday, a record for a single day in Singapore.
“The trend is particularly worrying over the past week,” said Gan Kim Yong, Minister of Health, citing the emergence of new clusters and the growing number of patients unrelated to confirmed cases.
Singapore and Hong Kong quickly implemented strict travel restrictions, contact tracing and other measures to slow the spread of the disease, and for some time appear to have brought it under control.
But the two international financial centers are facing a sharp increase in the number of cases, forcing them to implement this week their hardest distancing measures to date.
The escalation of city responses comes as Austria, the Czech Republic and Denmark are expected to become the first European countries to ease restrictions on daily life and business.
Singapore passed a law banning social gatherings of any size on Tuesday evening, while Hong Kong extended the closure of entertainment venues and restrictions on public gatherings for another two weeks on Wednesday.
Hong Kong authorities said on Wednesday that they have seen a “drastic increase” in the number of patients in the past two weeks, from 387 to 936. “Most of the cases are locally acquired infections with no travel history,” a said the government.
The number of locally transmitted infections in Singapore has more than doubled in the past two weeks as a result of a wave of imported infections. They include new groups in the dormitories of foreign workers, in which thousands of migrants live in often overcrowded rooms.
Authorities placed two of these dormitories on Sunday, housing 19,800 people isolated for two weeks, during which workers could not leave their rooms. In the past three days, cases related to foreign workers’ dormitories accounted for 35% of new cases reported.
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Singapore has passed a bill valid for up to six months which prohibits social gatherings of any size between individuals not living in the same household in public and private spaces.
Violators will face fines of up to 10,000 United States dollars ($ 7,000) and / or up to six months’ imprisonment in the first case, and double that for subsequent offenses.
Singapore has also closed schools and most workplaces until May 4. People can only leave their homes for essential services, groceries or to exercise in the park from a safe distance.
Hong Kong’s measures include closing establishments such as fitness centers, karaoke parlors and bars, while restaurants must reduce seating capacity by 50% and ensure tables are spaced at least 1.5 meters. Those who fail to comply with the public assembly restrictions face a fine of HK $ 25,000 (US $ 3,200) or six months in prison.
Additional report by Nicolle Liu in Hong Kong