Singapore confirms first case of new COVID-19 strain

Marje Pelayo   •   December 24, 2020   •   1227

Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed on Wednesday (December 23) that one case of a new potentially more contagious strain of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) virus — the B117 strain— circulating in the United Kingdom, has been detected in the country.

The patient is a 17-year-old Singaporean student who returned from the UK.

She had been studying in the UK from August 2020 and returned to Singapore on December 6. She served the Stay-Home Notice (SHN) at a dedicated facility upon arrival. 

She developed a fever the next day, and was confirmed to have COVID-19 infection on December 8.

All her close contacts had been placed on quarantine, and had tested negative for COVID-19 infection at the end of their quarantine period. 

“As she had been isolated upon arrival in Singapore, we were able to ringfence this case so that there was no further transmission arising from her,” the Ministry assured.

Following the recent report, the National Public Health Laboratory is performing viral genomic sequencing for confirmed COVID-19 cases who had arrived from Europe recently. 

From arrivals of passengers from Europe between November 17 and December 17, a total of 31 were confirmed to have COVID-19 infection in December which included one who has been found carrying the B117 strain.

The MOH said another 11 cases are pending confirmatory results who are preliminarily positive for the B117 strain. 

The agency assured that there is no evidence that the B117 strain is circulating in the community and all the cases had been placed on 14-day ‘stay at home notice’ (SHN) at dedicated facilities or isolated upon arrival in Singapore, and their close contacts had been quarantined earlier.

As a precautionary measure to reduce the risk of spread to Singapore, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce announced effective immediately, all long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with recent travel history to the UK within the last 14 days will not be allowed entry into Singapore, or transit through Singapore. 

Meanwhile, returning Singaporeans and permanent residents will be required to undergo a COVID-19 PCR test upon arrival in Singapore, at the start of their 14-day SHN.

Singapore to allow IATA travel pass as health document starting May

Marje Pelayo   •   April 6, 2021

SINGAPORE — The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) announced in a statement that passengers arriving in the city-state will be permitted to use the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Travel Pass as proof of a negative PCR test starting May 1, 2021.

The said IATA mobile travel pass can now be used for pre-departure checks.

Through the app, travelers can show through their smartphone their data from accredited laboratories of their health status to get clearance to fly to and enter Singapore.

“Such solutions will help drive adoption of digital health certificates and facilitate the secure verification of the health credentials of travelers. This is a positive step towards smooth air travel and safeguarding of public health,” CAAS said in a statement.

The move was decided after the successful test of using the IATA pass by Singapore Airlines.

“Having the confidence of an aviation leader like Singapore in IATA Travel Pass is hugely significant,” said IATA Director Willie Walsh.

“Travelers can have complete confidence that their personal data is secure and under their own control. The success of our joint efforts will make IATA’s partnership with the government of Singapore a model for others to follow,” he added.

Other carriers including Emirates, Qatar Airways, and Malaysia Airlines, are also testing the IATA pass.

At present, air passengers from most countries are required to present at the airport upon check-in and arrival negative results of COVID-19 swab tests within 72 hours of their flights in order to travel to Singapore.

PH extends UK travel ban to Jan. 14, 2021

Marje Pelayo   •   December 28, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) as directed by President Rodrigo Duterte, has extended the travel ban for flights coming from the United Kingdom (UK) for two more weeks after December 31.

“Consequently, all passengers who have been to the UK in the last 14 days prior to arrival in the country are still restricted entry until January 14, 2021,” according to Bureau of Immigration (BI) Commissioner Jaime Morente.

The ban follows reports of a new strain of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the UK, which is reportedly 70% more infectious.

READ: PH announces entry ban of all UK flights starting Dec. 24

Currently, the BI is implementing a strict 100% passport inspection to determine the travel history of arriving passengers in the last 14 days.

Meanwhile, the BI vowed to expedite the Implementing Rules and Regulations for Executive Order No. 122 or the Strengthening Border Control Through the Adoption and Implementation of the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS).

The APIS is an electronic communications system that collects biographic data on passenger or crew, which is transmitted to the BI prior to arrival, and allows for early vetting on the admissibility of an arriving alien.

“The API system is very timely, as apart from protecting the country from aliens with derogatory records, it would allow us to deny the boarding of passengers who have a travel history to the UK in the last 14 days, instead of having to detect them upon arrival in the country,” Morente said.

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)

(Production: Joseph Campbell)

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