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Experts in Singapore suggest 21-day quarantine for travellers from India

PTI Singapore | Updated on April 22, 2021

‘It is, however, not necessary to ban flights from India’

All travellers from India should be isolated for 21 days instead of 14 to help strengthen Singapore's defence against a new double mutant strain of SARS-CoV-2 that appears to be more infectious, reported The Straits Times citing experts on Thursday.

However, it is not yet necessary to ban flights from India, it said.

"A 14-day quarantine or SHN (stay home notice) would detect more than 98 per cent of Covid-19 cases, including those who were infected while on the plane," said Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, the vice-dean of global health at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

"A 21-day quarantine, backed by specific tests, would detect virtually all cases. However, that would impose a significant mental and financial cost to the traveller,” Yang said.

Singapore announced new safety measures on Tuesday, including fewer approvals for foreigners who are not permanent residents and are coming in from India, which is experiencing a second wave believed to be fuelled by a variant with a double mutation.

All travellers from India must now isolate for seven days at a residence after spending 14 days at a dedicated facility for those serving SHN.

The new measures have come amid a recent rise in locally-transmitted cases and as a new three-person cluster here has just been linked to a 43-year-old Indian national who was "probably reinfected" in India.

The work pass holder, who was asymptomatic, had tested positive on arrival from India on April 2 but was discharged after a few days as he was considered no longer infectious. But he went on to infect his sister-in-law and her husband.

Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research from the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said the positive swab result could mean that the Indian was infectious or had recently recovered from an infection.

India's surging outbreak has prompted places such as Hong Kong and New Zealand to ban flights. But the Singapore daily had experts saying that it is not yet necessary to ban flights from India or tighten guidelines on social and other gatherings.

Infectious disease expert Leong Hoe Nam said while banning flights is easy, it is about achieving a balance, as there's also the need to support the economy and be compassionate in allowing family members to come to visit.

Flight bans provide just short-term relief, said Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

"If such flight bans were successful, we would have seen a much smaller COVID-19 footprint globally, given the number of flight bans and border closures in the early months of 2020," he said.

"What I suspect ... is that these new variants that have emerged in one country are in fact already circulating in other countries," Teo said.

It's better to prevent virus variants from going on to seed uncontrollable community outbreaks with a comprehensive strategy that includes stricter border controls for travellers from India, he said.

"This, together with the repeated testing that will be applied to such travellers, will greatly increase our ability to reduce any leakage into the community, such as what we have seen last week," Teo said.

He added that the 14-day quarantine was never able to detect 100 per cent of the cases.

"We know from the epidemiological data that there are people whose incubation period actually extends beyond 14 days, just that the chance of this happening is low," he said.

Published on April 22, 2021

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