What about Singapore?

Yesterday, I wrote about Sweden’s decision not to go on lockdown in response to the Wuhan coronavirus. I will be watching Sweden’s numbers for new reported cases and deaths, and comparing them to those of Norway, which did lock down.

A reader asked me to look at the numbers from Singapore where, he says, only a partial quarantine has been used. The latest Singapore numbers I found were 1,189 reported cases and only 6 reported deaths.

As I understand it, Singapore is a special case. At the first sign of infection, it implemented an aggressive test, track, and isolate approach. It tested those who were showing symptoms. If they tested positive, it tested those with whom they had been in close contact. And so on. Those who tested positive were, of course, kept in isolation.

As I have suggested, where this approach can be implemented effectively, there is no need for a lockdown. In the U.S., however, we didn’t have enough tests to implement test, track, and isolate in the jurisdictions where the infection first broke out. Now, there may be some areas where we could use this approach effectively, but there may not be many.

Meanwhile, Singapore is experiencing a second wave of the virus. As of noon yesterday, there were 75 new reported cases, the largest single day spike yet. Sixty-nine of the cases involved people with no history of recent travel abroad.

Health officials immediately identified four clusters of the virus, three dormitories and a ball room where a wedding was held. More clusters were identified soon thereafter. However, it appears that some of the new cases have not yet been linked to previous cases or to any cluster. Officials are still working to “track” these infections.

In response to the reemergence of the virus, Singapore is imposing new restrictions on its population. According to this report, the government has ordered most workplaces to close and schools to switch to online instruction.

Temperatures in Singapore have been around 80 degrees lately. Yet, the virus is making a comeback. Hot weather doesn’t appear to be bringing Singapore relief from this particular virus.

I kind of wish I hadn’t looked into the Singapore experience. To me, it suggests the futility of even best practices to combat the spread of this virus over the long term. Singapore beat it back, only to be treated to a second wave.

Even with the U.S. in lockdown, it might take the us many months to beat the virus back, with no reason to be confident that there won’t be a second wave once we go back to work. It will probably be more than a year until a vaccine is ready for general use. In the meantime, our best hope might reside in keeping hospitals adequately supplied and in the development of treatments to minimize deaths among the infected.

If we are largely helpless in preventing the spread of this virus, that’s an argument for reopening the economy sooner rather than later. The more helpless we are on the epidemiological side, the fewer lives we can save through restrictive measures. We are less helpless, I hope, on the economic side.

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