Singapore has warned that new coronavirus variants, such as the one first detected in India, are affecting more children than past strains, as the city-state prepares to shut most schools from this week.
- Singapore confirmed 38 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases, the highest daily number since mid-September
- The B1617 strain appeared to affect children more, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said
- From Sunday, the government implemented its strictest curbs on gatherings and public activities since a lockdown last year
All primary, secondary and junior colleges will shift to full home-based learning from Wednesday until the end of the school term on May 28.
“Some of these [virus] mutations are much more virulent, and they seem to attack the younger children,” Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said.
None of the children who have contracted the virus are seriously ill and a few have mild symptoms, he added.
On Sunday (local time), Singapore confirmed 38 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases, the highest daily number since mid-September, with 17 currently unlinked. The cases included four children linked to a cluster at a tuition centre.
The B1617 strain — sometimes called the Indian double mutant variant — appeared to affect children more, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said, citing the ministry’s director of medical services, Kenneth Mak.
It was not clear how many children had contracted the strain.
Singapore has reported more than 61,000 virus cases, with the bulk linked to outbreaks last year in foreign worker dormitories, and 31 deaths.
Sunday’s new cases were the highest number of local infections outside of the dormitories in a year.
“The sharp rise in the number of community cases today requires us to significantly reduce our movements and interactions in the coming days,” Mr Chan added.
The Asian trade and financial hub of 5.7 million people had until recently been reporting almost zero or single-digit daily infections locally for months.
Though Singapore’s daily cases are still only a fraction of the numbers being reported among its South-East Asian neighbours, infections have been increasing in recent weeks.
From Sunday, the government implemented its strictest curbs on gatherings and public activities since a lockdown last year.
But the speed of Singapore’s inoculation program is being limited by the pace of vaccine supply arrivals. Experts have been studying whether to give one dose of the vaccine and extend the interval between shots, said Mr Ong.
Over a fifth of the country’s population has completed the two-dose vaccination regimen with vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna. Authorities will invite people under 45 years of age to receive shots from the second half of May.
Mr Chan said the government was also working on plans to vaccinate children below 16 years after regulatory approval, which was being sought by Pfizer.