The first 100 days of Covid-19 in Singapore

On Jan 23, Singapore saw its first case of Covid-19. 100 days later, Insight catches up with how Singapore – and the world – is fighting the virus that has infected more than three million globally and killed over 240,000. 

Pulling out all the stops to save lives, and the economy

On April 3, an assistant manager at the Lido branch of McDonald’s saw a doctor for a sore throat and fever. She was given five days’ medical leave.

At the end of her medical leave on April 8, the 44-year-old mother of a teenage boy went back to the doctor.

This time, she was sent to Seng-kang General Hospital for a Covid-19 swab test.


A pandemic that will change a generation

It starts with the rats. One by one, they convulse to death in the streets, each bleeding from its muzzle. Then, thousands of people die after being struck with high fever.

Leaders of the Algerian city of Oran initially try to downplay the severity of the plague. But as the case count rises exponentially, Oran goes into lockdown. Its citizens swing between denial and anger. Some punch the police; others try to escape from their homes.

This fictional crisis was described by French author Albert Camus in his acclaimed 1947 novel The Plague. Today, similar scenes of despair and denial are playing out across countries around the world over the Covid-19 pandemic.


Surviving Covid-19

A dinner where death lurked

It was a boisterous and lively Chinese New Year dinner that dragged on for five hours, with guests shuttling between tables to chit-chat and pose for wefies with one another, recalls case 130 of a celebration he and his wife attended at Safra Jurong on Feb 15.

“The atmosphere was upbeat and people were happy,” the 66-year-old, who would give his name only as Mr Tan, tells The Sunday Times.

The dinner would later be identified as a coronavirus cluster, and was once the nation’s largest one with 47 cases linked to it.


At 102, she fought and beat Covid-19

As she was wheeled into Lee Ah Mooi Old Age Home on Friday, Madam Yap Lay Hong was greeted with beaming faces and cries of joy from staff and residents.

The Grand Old Lady of the Home smiled calmly and appeared bemused by the fuss.

But when dinner was served, she ate heartily. Soon, she was nodding off, ready for bed.


‘I was shocked and cried non-stop’

Nearly a month after testing positive for the coronavirus, Madam Sylvia Sim is still unsure how she caught it.

The 58-year-old, who is unemployed, mostly stayed at home before her test results were found to be positive on April 6.

She says: “Never in my life would I have thought I would get it. This virus doesn’t care if you are rich or poor, young or old. I could be out for a walk, and I wouldn’t know if the person beside me has it.”


On the front line

Finding himself in the middle of a virus war

Thirty-three-year-old Dr Tay Woo Chiao started his stint at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) in January, expecting to deal with patients with known diseases such as HIV infection and dengue fever.

There were “murmurings” of an outbreak caused by what was then called the Wuhan virus, and everyone was on the alert, he says.

However, no one expected the coronavirus outbreak to evolve so quickly into the deadly pandemic that the world is now witnessing, in just two to three months.


Staying calm and positive despite fear and stress

The cards provide motivation, they offer comfort, they are perhaps reminders of her purpose. The cards arrive at the hospital from strangers, scribbles on blue paper, hearts drawn in black, and she takes these home and sticks them to her wall.

“Thank you,” the cards say.

Thank you for “sacrificing your safety for the better good of Singapore”. Thank you “for your hard work in protecting us”.


Racing to figure out and get ahead of virus

“It doesn’t quite matter to me now what time I go home,” says Professor Leo Yee Sin, executive director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID). “Because I continue to work at home.”

She works not only long hours, but also seven days a week since the Covid-19 outbreak hit Singapore.


The long fight against Covid-19

Many twists and turns in a deadly dance as Covid-19 tune plays on

Remember these words: “To see what is to come, look to Lombardy, the affluent Italian region in the heart of the Covid-19 outbreak in Europe.

“Its hospitals provide world-class healthcare. Until last week, they thought they would cope with the disease – then waves of people began turning up with pneumonia.”

This haunting refrain to “look to Lombardy” has lingered in my mind since I came across it in an editorial in The Economist on March 14, when the pandemic was gaining pace around the world.


Living through a silent scream

So, this is what a pandemic looks like.

We’ve heard of these great eruptions, of course. One or two who survived the Spanish Flu pandemic. A handful may still exist who remember the Great Depression. A few more are around who survived World War II, its blackouts and shortages.

But to live through something like this is an altogether different experience, especially when you have not one but two crises rolled into one; an insidious health threat spreading fear, and crumbling economies causing panic. And that is what the Covid-19 pandemic has meant so far for the world.


Like a long-distance swimmer, we must endure

Lewis Pugh, an ocean advocate who has swum in icy oceans and turbulent seas, knows about endurance and the elasticity of time. In a podcast late last year he spoke about the challenge of long-distance swims, and when I heard his words last week they resonated powerfully.

”The thing about long-distance swimming is how the goalposts can shift,” he said. ”You think you’re going to do a 10-hour swim and then you get to the coast of France and suddenly a current picks you up and it’s going to be a 15-hour swim. You think it’s going to be 15 hours and suddenly it’s 20 hours.

”It can break your mind. And so you have to be able to have that resilience when the goalposts shift. Because they will shift. And they never shift in the direction you want them to shift. To keep on going, to put one arm in front of the next and to recalibrate yourself.”


A different economy, a changed world

After a deep recession, a different economy

Just over 100 days ago, on Jan 15, the United States and China signed their phase one trade agreement, agreeing to halve some tariffs and suspend others, which kindled hopes that the two-year-long US-China trade war might be winding down.

Singapore’s economy had been battered by the spillovers, its exports hobbled by disrupted supply chains and its growth plunging to a decade low of 0.7 per cent last year, compared with 3.4 per cent in 2018.


Travel firm continues to engage customers, with eye on recovery

The travel industry may have come to a standstill due to the coronavirus, but companies and travel agents are continuing to engage customers online and taking up training courses in preparation for recovery.

Times are tough now with business on hold, but Dynasty Travel’s director of public relations and communications Alicia Seah believes the situation could start to improve, possibly as early as next month.


A world stricken and altered by a disease

When the first patient in the Chinese city of Wuhan came down with symptoms of a coronavirus infection late last year, no one could have foreseen the havoc the disease would wreak across the globe.

In a span of five months, the coronavirus has spread from China to almost every country in the world, killing more than 240,000 people, infecting more than 3.4 million, grinding economies to a halt and upending life as we know it.

The number of confirmed cases in the United States – which recorded its first infection on Jan 20 – has overtaken that of China in just two months, becoming the world’s worst-hit nation and accounting for a third of all infections and a quarter of all deaths.


Vaccines, drugs & the way forward

Medical, tech investments pay off in Covid-19 war

The world is fighting a war against a virus and Singapore scientists are pulling their weight when it comes to building up an arsenal of knowledge that can be used to vanquish the enemy.

But their expertise did not spring up overnight. It is the fruit of the continuing investment in the health and biomedical sciences that Singapore started decades ago – an investment that, during this crisis, is paying off handsomely.


Drug being studied here gets US nod for emergency use

A drug for Covid-19 that is being studied in Singapore was approved for emergency use in severely ill patients in the United States on Friday. It is remdesivir, an experimental anti-viral drug that blocks the coronavirus from replicating.

The approval had come just two days ago after early data released from a US National Institutes of Health (NIH) study of 1,063 hospitalised patients with advanced Covid-19 showed that those who took the drug recovered in an average of 11 days, compared with patients who got a placebo and recovered in 15 days.

Dr Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at NIH, told a media briefing then that while the 31 per cent improvement in recovery time may not seem like a big deal, “it is a very important proof of concept. Because what it has proven is that a drug can block this virus”.


Developing tests to diagnose Covid-19 in minutes

In an outbreak of an infectious disease like Covid-19, diagnosing patients is a key first step to preventing its spread. Identifying infected patients allows doctors to quickly ring-fence them, so they do not spread the virus to others while they are being treated.

The current “gold standard” method using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology detects the presence of viral genetic material in patient samples, but it is time-consuming and technical, since it involves expensive machinery that also requires trained technicians to operate.

Now, at least two research groups in Singapore are working on speeding up this process with test kits that can show results in minutes, instead of the current day-long wait for PCR test results.


Read the latest on the Covid-19 situation in Singapore and beyond on our dedicated site here.

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