Singapore saw its first fatality due to complications from COVID-19 in nearly two months over the weekend, amid a flareup of cases in a country that’s been one of the world’s most successful in containing the virus.
An 88-year-old Singaporean woman with a history of cancer and cardiac failure passed away on Saturday after she was treated in a ward at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, where a cluster of 27 cases has been identified since last week.
The cluster is Singapore’s first in a hospital and raises concern that the city’s hard-won success is slipping, potentially threatening efforts to open up a long-awaited travel bubble with Hong Kong and host major upcoming summits including the World Economic Forum and Shangri-la Dialogue.
“There will be many more” cases in the hospital as patients there are more susceptible given many hadn’t been vaccinated and were already sick with other illnesses, said Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease physician at Singapore’s Mount Elizabeth Hospital. “Unfortunately, they are easy targets for a COVID-19 super spreader, and in turn patients who have been infected can be new super spreaders,” he said, adding that he has no doubt the government will contain the cluster.
Singapore is one of the more successful spots in the world in curbing the virus, similar to others in Asia that have largely halted the spread but where virtual elimination is being challenged by sporadic flareups. In a bid to stay at zero local cases, these places — including New Zealand, Australia, Hong Kong, and China — react aggressively to small numbers of infections.
Already, fewer people have been allowed at malls and large stores since Saturday and campsites were closed for two weeks. Singapore will also reduce the operating capacity of attractions to 50% from 65% for a week from May 7, and urged people to limit social gatherings to two per day and stay home where possible.
While Singapore is also one the fastest in Asia on vaccination, it trails far behind leading countries globally including Israel, U.S. and U.K. — which have administered 10.5 million (57.7 percent), 246 million (38.2 percent) and 49.8 million (37.3 percent) — doses respectively, according to Bloomberg’s vaccination tracker. At 2.21 million doses given as of April 18, Singapore has inoculated just 19.4% of its population, with less than half having received both jabs.
Shares of flag carrier Singapore Airlines Ltd. dropped as much as 3.2 percent on Monday, the most in about two weeks, with stockbroker UOB Kay Hian Pte. saying the increase in cases threatened the reopening of the economy. The decline came even as the airline said it had raised about S$2 billion ($1.5 billion) to boost funds as it’s hit by pandemic-related restrictions.
Singapore has had more than 61,200 total COVID-19 cases, more than 54,500 of them in people living in migrant worker dorms.
The country registered 16 new cases of coronavirus in the local community on Thursday, its highest daily number since July 11, and 14 infections on Sunday, according to Ministry of Health data.
The number of unlinked cases in the community in Singapore has increased to 11 in the past week from just three the week prior.
Prior to the latest spate of infections, Singapore had several months of low single-digit or no new cases thanks to strict measures that include mandatory mask-wearing, restricted travel, high testing, and overall treatment capacity.
Of the cases found on Sunday, 13 were either patients or staff at Tan Tock Seng Hospital or close contacts who had already been placed on quarantine, according to the government. The patients in the cluster were linked to a 46-year-old Filipino nurse at the hospital, who was deployed at a general ward and had gotten her second vaccination dose on Feb. 18, authorities said. The 14th case was unlinked but may have tested positive for an old infection.