The MOH on Wednesday (23 Dec) confirmed that Singapore saw one imported case of the potentially more contagious strain of the COVID-19 virus. The confirmed case is a 17-year-old female Singaporean who had been studying in the UK since August 2020.
She returned to Singapore on 6 December and served SHN at a dedicated SHN facility upon arrival. The next day she developed a fever and was confirmed to have COVID-19 infection on 8 December.
All her close contacts had been placed on quarantine. They 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,” MOH said.
No evidence of the contagious strain in the community
In view of recent reports of the potentially more contagious B117 strain circulating in the UK, MOH said the National Public Health Laboratory is performing viral genomic sequencing for confirmed COVID-19 cases who had arrived from Europe recently.
Between 17 November and 17 December 2020, there is a total of 31 imported cases from Europe who arrived in Singapore.
Aside from the 17-year-old Singaporean confirmed to be infected with this contagious strain, 12 of them were not infected with this contagious strain. 5 samples could not be sequenced as their viral load was too low. Confirmatory results are pending for 11 cases who are preliminarily positive for the B117 strain. 2 cases have not been tested so far.
There is currently no evidence that the B117 strain is spreading in the community as all cases had been placed on SHN. Their close contacts had also been quarantined earlier.
To reduce the risk of spread to Singapore, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce announced that from 24 December, 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. Returning SCs and PRs will be required to undergo a COVID-19 PCR test upon arrival in Singapore, at the start of their 14-day SHN.
Human behaviour, not necessarily mutations, driving spread
As the virus hopscotched around the world, researchers have recorded thousands of tiny mutations in its genetic material.
The British variant has about 20 mutations. That the strain is 70% more transmissible is based on modelling and not confirmed in lab experiments.
Dr Muge Cevik, an infectious disease expert at the University of St Andrews in Scotland said, “Overall, I think we need to have a little bit more experimental data. We can’t entirely rule out the fact that some of this transmissibility data might be related to human behaviour.”
In South Africa too, scientists have observed that human behaviour was driving the epidemic.