Singapore’s daily coronavirus infection tally hit the highest in nearly a month as authorities started investigating new cases from karaoke lounges and clubs.
The uptick in cases may fuel concerns of a delay in rolling back restrictions although the government has said it is drawing up a road map that treats Covid-19 as endemic, and manageable as part of daily living like influenza.
Officials detected 19 new cases locally, with four of the infections currently unlinked, the Health Ministry said on Tuesday. It’s the highest daily case count since June 17, when 20 cases were found.
Health Ministry officers are now investigating cases among social hostesses, who are mostly Vietnamese and frequent karaoke lounges and clubs, the government said.
Those establishments were closed months ago as part of Singapore’s social distancing rules, but several have since obtained licenses to operate as food and beverage outlets and reopened under those terms.
Clusters potentially emerging from these lounges comes as Singapore took a first step in rolling back restrictions with allowing more people to dine together from Monday. Groups of five can now dine-in at food outlets from two previously. Dining-in was stopped briefly when Singapore experienced a flare-up in virus cases in May.
Venues for nightlife entertainment could well end up being more pervasive hotspots for coronavirus across Southeast Asia, as governments mull on easing restrictions and operators find ways bring back patrons and business.
While Singapore is more strict with licensing and is likely to clamp down on these karaoke lounge operators, much of the nightlife venues outside the country remain far less regulated.
In April, authorities in Bangkok had to close down almost 200 nightlife venues after they emerged as the epicenter of the latest flare-up with tests showing prevalence of more virulent variant of the virus at the time. These nightspots are still shut although there may be very little enforcement.
Singapore, for now, will carry out testing operations for staff and customers to stop the spread of infections in three karaoke bars and plans to extend free testing to other similar venues, the Health Ministry said in a late update Monday. The government advised those who interacted with Vietnamese social hostesses between June 29 and July 12 to limit social interactions and see a doctor if feeling unwell.
Along with vaccinations, testing quickly for the coronavirus is now one of the key planks of Singapore’s strategy to reopen the economy. Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said the medical officers make use of the polymerase chain reaction and antigen rapid tests on a large scale to detect and ringfence cases.
Breathalyzers, which take 2 to 3 minutes to administer, are being developed and Singaporean authorities are also expanding the testing of wastewater to help detect community spread early, Ong told a forum on Monday.