Singapore warns new virus strains infecting more children

SINGAPORE (AFP) – Singapore will close schools from tomorrow as authorities warned new coronavirus strains such as the one first detected in India were affecting more children in the city-state.

The government has been tightening restrictions because of a recent rise in local transmissions, after months of near-zero cases.

Authorities said on Sunday that primary and secondary schools as well as junior colleges would shift to full home-based learning from tomorrow until the end of the school term
on May 28.

The announcement came after Singapore confirmed 38 locally transmitted coronavirus cases, the highest daily count in eight months.

Some of the cases involved children linked to a cluster at a tuition centre. An additional 21 local transmissions were reported yesterday.

Singapore Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, citing a conversation he had with the ministry’s Director of Medical Services Kenneth Mak, said on Sunday that the B.1.617 strain, first detected in India, “appears to affect children more.”

Children walk home with their guardians after school in Singapore, as the country prepares to shut all schools and switch to home-based learning until the end of the term due to a rise in the number of Covid-19 coronavirus cases. PHOTO: AFP

“Some of these mutations are much more virulent and they seem to attack the younger children,” Singapore Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said.

“This is an area of concern for all of us,” he said, adding that none of the infected children was seriously ill.

The government is “working out the plans” to vaccinate students under the age of 16, Chan said in a Facebook post.

Singapore joined Taiwan in shutting down schools to stem the surge in infections.

Taiwan announced yesterday that schools would suspend classes from today until May 28.

The island emerged relatively unscathed from the pandemic last year, but it announced a further 333 local cases yesterday, bringing the total to just over 2,000.

In the latest round of restrictions, Singapore has limited public gatherings to two, banned restaurant dine-ins and closed gyms.

Last year, the coronavirus surged through crowded dormitories housing low-paid foreign workers, infecting tens of thousands.

But by global standards, Singapore’s overall outbreak has been mild — officials in the city of 5.7 million have reported more than 61,000 cases so far and 31 deaths since the start of
the pandemic.

But the latest spike has hit a quarantine-free travel bubble with Hong Kong, which was due to begin on May 26 after an earlier failed attempt.

A Hong Kong government spokesman said that “in view of the recent COVID-19 epidemic situation in Singapore”, the two governments had decided to delay the bubble.