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Singapore health officials are not too worried about the new XBB coronavirus variant, despite a recent spike in cases. Photo: AFP/File

Coronavirus: Singapore’s Covid resilience means XBB ‘not a concern’ even as cases spike during huge events like F1 race

  • City state reported 11,732 new cases on Tuesday, at a time the new XBB variant has caused some worry in Asia over its ability to ‘evade vaccines’
  • Singapore officials say there’s no cause for concern yet, citing the country’s ‘resilience built up through vaccination and previous waves of infection’
While Asian health officials are concerned over the new XBB coronavirus variant, Singapore’s recent jump in infections should not be viewed as too big a concern, infectious disease experts said on Wednesday, even as the city state hosts large-scale events as part of its reopening plan.

The Singapore health ministry also refuted online rumours the new variant has resulted in an increase in severe cases and deaths, initiating an action from its fake news law.

This comes as Hong Kong detects its first case of XBB.1 and a leading expert said that it has the “strongest ability to evade vaccines among variants at the moment”.
Dr Gilman Siu Kit-hang, associate professor of the Department of Health Technology and Informatics at Polytechnic University, said on Wednesday that it was difficult to predict if XBB would become the dominant strain in Hong Kong, with residents travelling under the newly introduced “0+3” arrangement.


Singapore lifts indoor mask rule in most public spaces, eases quarantine for unvaccinated travellers

Singapore lifts indoor mask rule in most public spaces, eases quarantine for unvaccinated travellers

Meanwhile, health officials and infectious disease experts in Singapore said the XBB.1 strain is not yet a concern. With reinfection rates at around 15 per cent, Singapore’s health minister Ong Ye Kung said there could be another wave if this number reached 50 per cent.

The city state reported 11,732 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, up from 4,000 infections on Sunday and Monday. This was the first time daily cases went above 10,000 in more than two months.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) also invoked Singapore’s fake news law to rebut rumours the new strain has resulted in an increase in Covid-19 cases and deaths.

These rumours, which have been circulating via messaging platform WhatsApp, are untrue, said the ministry, though Singapore is experiencing “an increase in local cases driven by XBB, including the post-weekend spike this Tuesday”.

Severe cases still remain relatively low, with 11 intensive care unit cases and 50 cases who needed oxygen supplementation, it said.

This is “due to the resilience built up through vaccination and previous waves of infection”, said the ministry, adding that it would continue to monitor the trajectory closely.

On Wednesday evening, the ministry said it was tightening rules for visitors to hospitals and residential care homes for a period of four weeks. Until November 10, patients can only be visited by only two pre-designated visitors. Only one of these visitors will be allowed at a patient’s bedside at any one time.

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Experts who spoke to This Week in Asia said that while cases had gone up due to relaxed restrictions and the busy F1 weekend, with many events and activities held around the same time as the race, there was no need to sound alarm bells just yet.

Dr Alex Cook, associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said: “So far, there is no reason to think that the wave will be any worse than the last two, both of which were overwhelmingly mild, as you would expect in a highly vaccinated population that has, by now, mostly already been infected and therefore with even more protection against severe illness.”

Describing the situation as “close to life-as-normal”, he said current XBB case numbers did not suggest the need for restrictions to be reimposed.

About 92 per cent of Singapore’s population of 5.6 million have received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine, according to the MOH website.

Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases expert, said: “The immunity to Covid lasts for one to three months only – shorter if there is a new variant. We had a big spike three months ago and these are all up for reinfection.

“But most Singaporeans are not worried. Unlike the threat in mid-2022, the hospital services are still coping so that’s less of a concern.”

Having already “accepted this as a fact of life”, he added that citizens are “aware and prepared” for infections as many have already been infected and experienced mild symptoms.

When asked about whether travellers from Hong Kong should be concerned, Dr Cook said that there is “nothing to fear than fear itself”.

“If I were a vaccinated Hongkonger coming to Singapore, I’d be more concerned about the risk of being quarantined on my return than of getting Covid-19.”