Singapore will stop most school classes this week following a spike in COVID-19 cases where the infection route could not be traced, which pose the biggest challenge since last year to the government as it works out plans to vaccinate children.
All primary, secondary, junior college and some pre-university students will shift to full home-based learning, a move last carried out in April last year as part of a partial lockdown. The Education Ministry said that this time schooling from home will run from May 19 until the end of the school term, on May 28.
“Some of these mutations are much more virulent and they seem to attack the younger children,” said Chan Chun Sing, the new education minister, at a briefing. “We have to significantly reduce our movement and interactions in the coming days.”
Singapore reported 38 new cases of COVID-19 infection in the community on Sunday, the highest number in more than a year. They include 18 cases in which the infection route has not yet been traced, which is of most concern to officials as they signal undetected spread in the country.
Schools will remain open to students who need more support, while all center-based tuition and enrichment classes should move activities online until the end of the so-called heightened alert period slated to last to June 13, the government said. The move is intended to cut the mingling of students from different schools, given that at least 10 children tested positive for the virus in the past week.
Preschools and student care centers remain open to support parents who have to work, in a sign that the government is trying to avoid a partial lockdown similar to last April — which was far more restrictive and saw the economy nosedive. Singapore’s benchmark stock index fell 0.4% as investors assessed the impact of the latest virus measures.
The jump in infections among students has led to Singapore making plans to vaccinate children under the age of 16, Education Minister Chan said.
The ministries of education and health are working out plans for the “vaccination of our students,” Chan wrote on his Facebook page. “Once the approval for use is granted, we will roll out vaccinations to those below 16.”
Singapore is following in the footsteps of U.S. health regulators, who have approved the use of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children age 12 to 15. The Pfizer-BioNTech is among the vaccines approved by the Singapore government.
During a briefing Sunday, new health minister Ong Ye Kung also said the government was studying holding off the second vaccine shots in order to give more people at least one dose of inoculation.
“There have been many international studies and it shows that even with one dose, it confers good protection without compromising efficacy,” Ong said. “Our scientists have been studying this.”
Singapore has vaccinated 1.9 million people, or a third of the population, with their first dose. Nearly 1.3 million have received both doses.
In a post on her Facebook page on Sunday, Ho Ching, the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, encouraged older people to get vaccinated, even as she cited a scarcity in the shots.
“Yes, our vaccine deliveries are slow this month and possibly next 1-2 months,” said Ho, who is also the chief executive officer of Singapore’s state-owned investor Temasek Holdings Pte. until October.
A virus cluster at Changi Airport remains the country’s biggest, with 74 linked cases, the Ministry of Health said. New clusters were also identified at Changi Prison Complex and at a restaurant at White Sands shopping mall, which are in east Singapore.
On Sunday, the country returned to a month of the lockdown-like conditions it last imposed a year ago, with a ban on dining-in and gatherings limited to two people. Singapore had been one of the world’s success stories in containing COVID-19 but the rise in untraceable cases from last week could now see the cancellation of a highly-anticipated travel bubble with Hong Kong.
Cases are also emerging in other parts of Singapore. Two dealers at Marina Bay Sands casino, operated by Las Vegas Sands Corp., also tested positive for the virus.
The casino is in the same complex as a luxury hotel and convention center, which are one of the locations under consideration to host the Davos-based World Economic Forum set for August. Singapore is also scheduled to host the Shangri-La Dialogue early next month, to which organizers said last week they remain committed.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.