Singapore warns new virus strains infecting more children shuts schools

Singapore | Mon, May 17, 2021

New coronavirus strains, including the one first discovered in India, are affecting more children in Singapore, so schools will be closed starting Wednesday. Following a recent spike in local transmissions after months of near-zero incidents, the government has tightened controls. Authorities declared late Sunday at a virtual news conference that from Wednesday until the end of the school term on May 28, primary and secondary schools, as well as junior colleges, will switch to full home-based learning.

Singapore reported 38 locally transmitted coronavirus cases just hours before the news conference on Sunday, the highest daily count in eight months. Any of the cases involved children who were part of a tuition center cluster. The B.1.617 strain “appears to affect children more,” Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said at a news conference Sunday, citing a discussion he had with the ministry’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak.

The strain was first detected in India.

“Some of these mutations are even more virulent, and they seem to target the younger children,” said Education Minister Chan Chun Sing at a press conference.

“This is an area of concern for all of us,” he said, noting however that none of the children who had been infected were critically ill. The government is “working out the arrangements” to vaccinate students under the age of 16, Chan said in a Facebook post. To combat the outbreak of diseases, the financial hub has joined Taiwan in closing schools.

Schools in Taiwan’s capital Taipei and neighboring New Taipei City declared Monday that classes will be canceled from Tuesday to May 28. Taiwan, which escaped with little damage last year, reported 333 new local cases on Monday, taking the number to just over 2,000. The increase in local transmissions in Singapore is likely to derail a quarantine-free travel bubble between Singapore and Hong Kong, which is set to begin on May 26 after a previous attempt failed.

To combat the outbreak, Singapore has restricted public gatherings to two, prohibited restaurant dine-ins, and closed gyms. Non-passengers have been barred from accessing the airport terminal, and an adjacent mall has been closed while 9,000 employees undergo testing. Last year, when the disease spread through crowded dormitories housing low-paid foreign staff, infecting tens of thousands, Singapore had to deal with severe coronavirus outbreaks. However, by global standards, the epidemic has been mild; authorities in the 5.7 million-person region have recorded more than 61,000 cases and 31 deaths so far.

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