Singapore confirms first case of 2019-nCoV, observes two more suspected cases

Marje Pelayo   •   January 24, 2020   •   1074

SINGAPORE – The Ministry of Health (MOH) on Thursday (January 23) reported the country’s first case of 2019 novel coronavirus (2019 nCov) infection.

The infected individual is a 66-year-old male Chinese national from Wuhan City who arrived in the city state with his family on January 20.

The patient is now confined at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and has been in stable condition.

The Ministry is also observing the condition of two suspected cases of 2019 nCov infection.

One is a 53-year-old female Chinese national also from Wuhan, whose preliminary test for nCov is positive.

She is now in stable condition while the Ministry waits for the result of the confirmatory tests on her case.

Health authorities in Singapore are currently conducting contact tracing on persons who have had close contacts with patients.

The Ministry has identified nine travelling companions of the 66-year-old male patient, one of whom has been warded as a suspect case, a 37-year-old Chinese male from Wuhan.

He is now in stable condition.

Meanwhile, the rest of their companions will be quarantined for 14 days.

The Ministry ramped up its precautionary measures by ordering all public hospitals in Singapore “to screen and manage suspect and confirmed cases,” and reminded doctors and healthcare workers “to be highly vigilant, and maintain strict infection control and prevention measures.”

“Given the high volume of international travel to Singapore, MOH expects to see more suspect cases and imported cases. We urge the public to remain calm and vigilant, and to adopt good personal hygiene practices,” the Ministry said in a press release.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro tested again for novel coronavirus

UNTV News   •   July 7, 2020

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Monday (July 6) he had undergone another test for the novel coronavirus, after local media reported he had symptoms associated with the COVID-19 respiratory disease, including a fever.

Bolsonaro told supporters outside the presidential palace that he had just visited the hospital and been tested for the virus, adding that an exam had shown his lungs “clean.”

CNN Brasil and newspaper Estado de S.Paulo reported that he had symptoms of the disease, such as a fever. The president’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bolsonaro has repeatedly played down the impact of the virus, even as Brazil has suffered one of the world’s worst outbreaks, with more than 1.6 million confirmed cases and 65,000 related deaths, according to official data on Monday.

The right-wing populist has often defied local guidelines to wear a mask in public, even after a judge ordered him to do so in late June.

Over the weekend, Bolsonaro attended multiple events and was in close contact with the U.S. ambassador to Brazil during July 4 celebrations. The U.S. embassy in Brasilia did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Bolsonaro previously tested negative for the coronavirus after several aides were diagnosed following a visit to U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, Florida, estate in March. (Reuters)

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Singapore scientists to start human trials of COVID-19 vaccine in August

UNTV News   •   June 16, 2020

Singapore scientists testing a COVID-19 vaccine from U.S. firm Arcturus Therapeutics plan to start human trials in August after promising initial responses in mice.

The vaccine being evaluated by Singapore’s Duke-NUS Medical School works on the relatively-untested Messenger RNA (mRNA) technology, which instructs human cells to make specific coronavirus proteins that produce an immune response.

“The most optimistic case is that it’s about this time next year, that we will have a vaccine,” Ooi Eng Eong, deputy director of the school’s emerging infectious diseases programme, told Reuters on Tuesday (June 16).

The mRNA approach has not yet been approved for any medicine so its backers, which also include U.S. biotech firm Moderna, are treading uncharted territory.

More than 100 vaccines are being developed globally, including several already in human trials, to try and control a disease that has infected more than 8 million people and killed over 430,000 worldwide.

Ooi is also working on a monoclonal antibody treatment for COVID-19 with Singapore-based biotechnology firm Tychan, and will begin safety trials on healthy people this week, before testing on COVID-19 patients in the coming months. Ooi said potential deployment of the treatment could be faster than the vaccine, without giving an exact timeline.

Antibodies are generated in the body to fight off infection. Monoclonal antibodies mimic natural antibodies and can be isolated and manufactured in large quantities to treat diseases.

Tiny city-state Singapore has one of the highest infection tallies in Asia, with more than 40,000 cases, largely due to mass outbreaks in dormitories for its migrant workers. (Reuters)

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Singapore’s migrant workers fear financial ruin after virus ordeal

UNTV News   •   June 9, 2020

As Sharif Uddin begins to dream about leaving the cramped Singapore dormitory where he has spent weeks under coronavirus quarantine, fears about his future are creeping in.

The 42-year-old Bangladeshi construction site supervisor is one of the thousands of low-income migrant workers trapped in packed bunk rooms that have been ravaged by the coronavirus, accounting for more than 90% of Singapore’s 38,000 infections.

As Singapore began easing its lockdown measures this month, migrants like Uddin started to think about returning to the outside world, bringing to the surface worries about jobs and debts as Singapore braces for its deepest-ever recession.

“The fear of losing jobs is worrying everyone at the moment,” said Uddin, who sends the bulk of his wages to his family in Bangladesh, like many of the South Asians working in manual jobs in Singapore.

For most migrant workers, at least part of their salaries is used to pay off the steep fees of the agent who helped procure the job.

Reuters has interviewed over a dozen migrant workers in Singapore in recent weeks. While many said they were still being paid, they were unsure if they will retain their jobs when the quarantine is lifted.

The Singapore government has given companies tax breaks to try and ensure migrants get paid while under quarantine and introduced measures to help laid off workers find new positions without having to first travel back to their home country, a core complaint of many labourers.

Lawrence Wong, the co-head of Singapore’s virus task force, told Reuters that the government had taken steps to help alleviate the concerns of workers around job security, but added that layoffs were possible given the grim economic outlook.

“There may be some contractors who might decide – well despite all the government measures, with the new arrangements, the new additional requirements in construction, it is very difficult and I might not want to continue in this industry – and then indeed they might release some of their workers,” said Wong, who is also the minister for national development.

He added that some workers may remain quarantined in their dormitories until August, or possibly beyond, as the government completes mass testing.

The pandemic has drawn attention to the stark inequalities in the modern city-state where more than 300,000 labourers from Bangladesh, India and China often live in rooms for 12 to 20 men, working jobs that pay as little as S$20 ($14.30) a day.

That is higher than they would make at home. But the median salary for Singaporeans in 2019 was S$4,563 per month, according to the manpower ministry.

The bigger worry for many migrants like Uddin is the debts they have racked up securing jobs in Singapore.

Migrants will usually be charged S$7,000-10,000 in fees by a recruitment agent in their home country, equivalent to more than a year of their basic salary, according to rights groups. If they lose their job, this debt could haunt their families for years.

“An indebted worker is a more compliant worker and that is what the employers like. That is one reason too that employers prefer to have new workers, than to retain old workers,” said Deborah Fordyce, president of Singapore NGO Transient Workers Count Too.

Wong, the minister, said the government will continue to work to improve migrants’ lives in Singapore, but tackling issues like fees is difficult because many agents operate in the workers’ home countries outside the city-state’s jurisdiction.

Singapore’s government has pledged to improve living conditions for migrant workers in the short-term and build new, higher-spec dormitories over the coming years. (Reuters)

(Production: Pedja Stanisic, Joseph Campbell, Edgar Su, Travis Teo)

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