How police investigators helped uncover church coronavirus cluster
Officers lent investigative expertise to MOH in contact tracing efforts
It was late last Thursday night, when two Singaporeans with no travel history to China tested positive for the coronavirus.
Initial probes by health officers found no links between them and previous cases, and with four confirmed unlinked local transmissions at the time, the authorities raised the outbreak alert level to orange.
But police investigators, who have been working with the Health Ministry (MOH) in its contact tracing efforts, found both cases had gone to church in the same area the same day. In a day's work, they helped uncover the cluster of cases linked to The Life Church and Missions Singapore in Paya Lebar Road.
Officers from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the Central Narcotics Bureau and other police land divisions have lent their investigative expertise when needed to help track down close contacts of infected patients.
Some are temporarily pulled out from regular work while others pull double duty.
Yesterday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam lauded their efforts after a visit to the CID Command Centre in Cantonment Road.
"It requires interviewing the individual and then a lot of careful investigative work," he told the media. "In a place like Singapore with that frequency of movement and the frequency of contacts - a case in any city - that this is not an easy task."
So far, five cases have been linked to The Life Church and Missions Singapore.
They are Cases 8 and 9, a couple from Wuhan, both 56, and Cases 31, 33 and 38, all Singaporeans - a 53-year-old man living in Tampines Street 24 who was in Malaysia on Jan 6, 11 and 17; a 39-year-old woman, who was in Malaysia from Jan 22 to 29; and a 52-year-old woman living in Choa Chu Kang Avenue 3.
Contact tracing starts with a map of a patient's movements 14 days before symptoms appear until they are isolated.
This is first done by the hospital where the patient is warded and corroborated by MOH contact tracers, who plug gaps and do their own analysis to draw any links between cases.
After Cases 31 and 33 were confirmed last Friday, their activity maps were given to the police, who detected that one went to a church in MacPherson and the other, a church in Paya Lebar.
Further interviews found it was the same church and they were both at The Life Church and Missions Singapore on Jan 19. Checks also found the church had Mandarin services.
This sparked investigators to review previously confirmed cases, especially imported ones.
After checking travel records for those who arrived here before or on Jan 19, they narrowed it down to four cases before honing in on the Wuhan couple, who landed here at 5am that Sunday and went to the church that morning.
Asked about the church cluster, Mr Shanmugam said it took a lot of painstaking work to track these movements and to identify the commonalities.
"They did very well there. They are trying to do a similar sort of work for the other cases as well," he added.