Singapore looked like it was managing the spread of COVID-19. Then it all fell apart.

In February, the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, publicly praised Singapore’s “no stone unturned” approach to minimising the spread of COVID-19.

The Asian city-state had certainly moved faster than most.

It began temperature screening passengers from China as early as January 22 — that’s a day before Wuhan (the original source of the pandemic) went into lockdown. Days later, it implemented an impressive contract-tracing program that has seen the Singapore Armed Forces making 1,000-2,000 calls a day to monitor people with confirmed or suspected cases of the virus.

By the end of January, authorities enforced travel restrictions, banning inbound passengers from China and some of the worst-affected areas. And by the end of March, it had closed its borders to non-residents, advised against all non-essential overseas travel and suspended all religious services.

Listen: What Australia’s COVID-19 restrictions mean for your long weekend. Post continues below.

As other countries locked down around it, Singapore managed to remain relatively open. Restaurants and some bars were operating with strict social distancing measures. As were shops. And schools were still running.

Until April 7, when the country’s 5.7 million residents entered a partial lockdown after experiencing an alarming spike in new cases.

It seemed likely that residents forced to return home due to regulations overseas may have brought the virus with them, allowing a second wave of infections to slip through the net.

On April 8, there were 142 new diagnoses, taking Singapore’s tally over 1,600. As of this week, there are more than 9000 cases, with 1,111 recorded yesterday alone – the highest numbers in south-east Asia, with about 78 per cent of total cases linked to workers living in mega-dormitories.

Roughly 200,000 of the country’s 1.3 million migrant workers live in close quarters across 43 dormitory buildings – with the dorms largely overlooked during the early stages of the crisis.


Watch: Inside Singapore’s crowded migrant worker dormitories.

Video via Reuters

And so, after months of being heralded as the ‘gold standard’ of COVID-19 management and the envy of its neighbours, Singapore’s streets fell silent.

Non-essential workplaces, schools, tertiary education providers, restaurants and bars have all been shut. People have been warned to only leave home when strictly necessary, and not to gather with anyone who doesn’t normally live in their household.

The month-long restrictions were described by authorities as a “circuit breaker”: “We have decided that instead of tightening incrementally over the next few weeks, we should make a decisive move now, to pre-empt escalating infections,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an address to the nation.

It’s just been announced that the country is extending its partial lockdown by another four weeks until June 1 with Loong telling his country to “hunker down.”

It means residents won’t be able to enjoy this year’s Ramadan festivities.

Singapore’s early success in cushioning itself from the pandemic should not be underestimated. But its recent spike has highlighted just how easily the novel coronavirus can spread, even with social distancing measures in place.

As parts of the world begin to contemplate easing their restrictions, no doubt they are once again looking to Singapore. This time to see what the risks are.

Feature Image: Ore Huiying/Getty Images.

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To protect yourself and the community from COVID-19, remain in your home unless strictly necessary, keep at least 1.5 metres away from other people, regularly wash your hands and avoid touching your face.

If you are sick and believe you have symptoms of COVID-19, call your GP ahead of time to book an appointment. Or call the national Coronavirus Health Information Line for advice on 1800 020 080. If you are experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

To keep up to date with the latest information, please visit the Department of Health website.