PCF to review processes as 20 cases linked to pre-school
Infections at Fengshan cluster show need for precautions at even the slightest hint of illness, says expert
It started with one teacher falling sick, and within a couple of days, Singapore's latest coronavirus cluster at the PCF Sparkletots pre-school at Fengshan Block 126 had ballooned to 18 infections on Wednesday.
Two of the 52 new infections confirmed yesterday have been linked to the cluster, making up a total of 20.
Fifteen are part of the preschool's staff, including its 47-year-old principal. The remaining five are her family members.
On Wednesday, PCF chief executive Victor Bay apologised to parents in a letter which said that some staff members were at work despite feeling unwell.
Later that evening, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) said the principal developed symptoms on the afternoon of March 17.
That day, she had a meeting with her staff and attended a course with staff members from other pre-schools in the evening.
She saw a doctor the next morning and was on medical leave until March 20.
Most of the other staff who tested positive began having symptoms from March 20 and over the weekend, ECDA said.
At least 150 people, including 30 staff members from other pre-schools and more than 100 children, are now in quarantine.
Contact tracing is still ongoing to identify others who were in close contact with the cases, the Ministry of Health said.
Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee told the media yesterday that five children who felt unwell have tested negative for Covid-19.
He said the country's largest pre-school operator, which runs 360 centres islandwide, will be reviewing its processes and going through its standard operating procedures and guidelines with staff. All 360 centres will be closed till Sunday, except the Fengshan centre, which will be closed till April 7.
He said: "Some may perceive that in this particular case, some teachers who were not well ought to have left the centre immediately, rather than carry on with their duties for a couple more hours.
"But I hope that parents, the public and other colleagues recognise the realities on the ground and not in a two-dimensional way. Because I am sure the teachers concerned, the operators, managers, in hindsight, have seen facts and they will take the necessary measures hereafter... in order to hold to account the causes for what happened.
"I think we should not jump to any conclusions to say any one teacher or principal had been the entry point for this Covid-19. Let's have a heart for the feelings of the teachers concerned.
Noting there was no indication they were complacent or had broken the rules, Mr Lee added: "This is not the time for us to pin and assign blame."
Without singling out anyone, Dr Jeremy Lim, a partner for health and life sciences at consultancy firm Oliver Wyman, said this case shows the importance of taking precautions at even the slightest suspicion of illness.
ABUNDANCE OF CAUTION
"What this shows is that an abundance of caution should be the norm," he told The New Paper.
"Social distancing is an important factor, but what is also critical to defeating Covid-19 is individuals being aware of their bodies and recognising when they might be unwell," added Dr Lim, who also teaches at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.
"One need not rush to the doctor at the slightest symptoms... but reducing social interaction for the next couple of days would be prudent."
Earlier this month, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong noted that many of the locally transmitted cases were the result of the "socially irresponsible actions of a few individuals".
About one in five cases had not minimised contact when they had symptoms, resulting in clusters, including one at a gym.
Dr Jade Kua, a senior consultant at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, said parents should take this opportunity to encourage their children to practise good hygiene.
"Parents have to keep sick kids home, and everyone needs to constantly remind kids about good hygiene," she said.
"The best way to do this is to practise it ourselves. Social responsibility begins at home, so don't just leave it to the teachers to teach it."