50% of people in Bukit Merah View cluster are unvaccinated: Kenneth Mak

There have been 56 cases linked to the cluster so far.

Jane Zhang | June 18, 2021, 04:53 PM

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In a press conference on Friday (Jun. 18), the Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) on Covid-19 announced that despite some improvement and a slowing of chains of transmission, there has been a continuous emergence of unlinked cases which suggests that ongoing community transmission persists.

During the press conference, Director of Medical Services Kenneth Mak spoke about the recent cluster that emerged at Bukit Merah View, and encouraged people to get vaccinated.

Bukit Merah View cluster

As of Thursday (Jun. 17), a total of 56 cases have been linked to the cluster at the Bukit Merah View food centre and market, located at 115 Bukit Merah View.

21 of the 56 cases are tenants or stall holders, said Mak, while 13 are visitors to the market and food centre.

The remaining 22 cases are believed to be people who did not visit the Bukit Merah View food centre or market, but who got Covid-19 through onward transmission from close contacts who either visited or worked there.

Circumstances were right for transmission

Mak said that at this time, it is not possible for the Ministry of Health (MOH) to pin down specific modes of transmission, but that it is "very likely" that for tenants, stallholders, and staff working at the market and food centre, close contact amongst them contributed to exposure to and spread of Covid-19, in both mask-on and mask-off settings.

He added that there could also have been an element of fomite (surface) transmission through common facilities, such as toilets.

Another contributing factor could have been long queues at popular stalls, Mak said:

"We know that a number of the stalls at the food centre are very popular lunch and dinner destinations, and there are many who work in the vicinity who will visit both the market and the food centre for their meals.

And some of the cases that we have interviewed have reported queuing up for at least 30 minutes, which would ordinarily be considered a significant period of close contact if these visitors were close together."

"And therefore," he said, "it is clear that the circumstances were right, in a setting where the market and food centre had a number of cases, for transmission to take place."

All tenants and staff at the market and food centre — including cleaners, suppliers, and delivery drivers that MOH has been able to identify — have been issued quarantine orders.

Regular visitors to the food centre and market have also been issued quarantine orders.

Both the market and food centre have been closed for cleaning and disinfection operations facilitated and supported by the National Environment Agency (NEA) and the town council since Jun. 13, and will remain closed until Jun. 26.

Testing operations in nearby locations

Mak added the geospatial mapping done of all cases in the vicinity helped the ministry identify the market and food centre as "a lively confluence of activity contributing to exposure and spread".

This then led them to conduct further testing operations to assess the degree of spread. Swab testing operations have been initiated at a number of locations in Tiong Bahru and Redhill, to identify staff and visitors at increased risk of exposure.

Some of the locations include an NTUC FairPrice at Lengkok Bahru, Redhill Market and Food Centre, Tiong Bahru Plaza, and retail markets in Redhill Lane and Redhill Close.

These locations are based on where cases have been detected and activity mapping, said Mak.

He added that the ministry is also watching other clusters in the vicinity, such as in Eng Watt Street, other parts of Bukit Merah View, and Eng Hoon Street.

"We remain vigilant to assess whether or not there are any linkages that can be established between these other clusters and that at 115 Bukit Merah View."

He added that phylogenetic testing is being conducted, and the ministry will use the results of the phylogenetic testing to establish further links, which they will then report "in due course".

50 per cent of people in cluster unvaccinated

Mak thanked residents for volunteering to be tested as part of the swab testing operations going on at Bukit Merah View, and asked everyone who visited these areas to monitor their own health.

He also encouraged people who have not yet been vaccinated to register and make plans to do so, "because vaccination does protect you and reduces the risk of you getting infected with Covid-19 infection".

He shared that out of the 56 cases in the Bukit Merah View market and food centre cluster, around 32 per cent of people had been fully-vaccinated, while 50 per cent of people were unvaccinated:

"And this does support the view that vaccination does protect you and reduce the risk of you getting infected, as opposed to those who are not vaccinated."

The remaining 12 per cent either received only one dose of the vaccine so far, or have not yet gotten full protection from both doses of the vaccine.

MTF co-chair Lawrence Wong said that nationwide, 49 per cent of people have gotten their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, while 35 per cent have gotten their full vaccination regime.

"That's not high enough — particularly, the full vaccination rates.

Our vaccine coverage for the vulnerable groups, the elderly is not bad — it's certainly above 60 per cent — but still not high enough, especially for those who are above 70 years old. We would like to be much higher, in order to protect our vulnerable groups."

Mak reminded everyone to "continue to be disciplined in wearing your mask and in engaging in safe distanc[ing] measures", as they "continue to be important to disrupt future and present chains of transmission from occurring".

Also announced on Jun. 18:

Top photos via MCI and Google Maps Street View.