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Bukit Merah View cluster: Covid-19 may have spread via common toilets, queues at popular food stalls, says MOH

SINGAPORE — It is possible that the coronavirus infections at Bukit Merah View Market and Food Centre were spread through “fomite transmission”, where the virus was passed on through the common use of facilities such as toilets, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak said on Friday (June 18).

The Bukit Merah View Market and Food Centre (pictured) will be closed until June 26, 2021.

The Bukit Merah View Market and Food Centre (pictured) will be closed until June 26, 2021.

Singapore

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  • Assoc Prof Kenneth Mak said the authorities were not certain how Covid-19 had been spread at the Bukit Merah View Market and Food Centre
  • But he said “fomite transmission” through common facilities such as toilets was possible
  • The food stalls at the market were very popular at lunch and dinner, with people queueing for up to 30 minutes, he added

 

SINGAPORE — It is possible that the coronavirus infections at Bukit Merah View Market and Food Centre were spread through “fomite transmission”, where the virus was passed on through the common use of facilities such as toilets, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak said on Friday (June 18).

Giving an update on the cluster at a media briefing by the national Covid-19 task force, the director of medical services at the Ministry of Health (MOH) emphasised that the authorities have yet to pin down the specific modes of transmission of the cases there.

He added that some of the positive cases in the cluster have reported queuing for at least 30 minutes at some of the popular food stalls, and this would be considered a significant period of cross-contact if visitors were standing close together.

Assoc Prof Mak said that the market was a “very popular” lunch and dinner destination, with many people who work nearby visiting for meals.

“Therefore, it is clear that the circumstances were right… for transmission to take place.”

He did not elaborate on the possibility of fomite transmission. “Fomite” refers to inanimate objects or materials that can carry infection.

He also said that the authorities were able to identify 115 Bukit Merah View as the likely central point of activities, which contributed to the exposure and spread of the virus, after a geospatial mapping of all cases in the vicinity was done.

This is why more swab testing operations in the area, such as at various places in Redhill and Tiong Bahru, is being carried out.

There are other clusters at Eng Watt Street and Eng Hoon Street in Tiong Bahru and other parts of Bukit Merah View that the Government is monitoring, to assess whether there are any linkages that can be established between those sites and the Bukit Merah View market and hawker centre.

“Phylogenetic testing is being conducted for all these cases, where we can do this testing, but the results of the phylogenetic testing are not out yet. And we will use these test results when available to establish further links, which we would then report in due course,” he said.

Phylogenetic testing relates to testing the features and development of organisms.

As of Thursday, 56 cases have been linked to the cluster, with 21 of them being tenants, stallholders or workers at the market and hawker centre. Another 13 were visitors.

The rest included people who did not directly visit the market and hawker centre, but are close contacts of those who have been infected.

Among the cases reported in the cluster, 32 per cent have been vaccinated, while 50 per cent are not. The rest have received either only one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine or have not yet developed full protection from two doses.

“This does support the view that vaccination does protect you and reduces the risk of you getting infected, as opposed to those who are not vaccinated,” Assoc Prof Mak said.

SHORT EXPOSURE

He added that being in close contact with someone who has Covid-19 for five to 10 minutes already carries a risk of exposure and transmission.

And the risk does multiply at a food centre where people are queuing for 30 minutes at popular stalls, especially if they are quite close together.

Assoc Prof Mak said, however, that such a risk is not specific to only hawker centres, but to fast-food outlets that have special sales, shops launching new phones, or even at general practitioner clinics that offer Sinovac vaccines.

“It's not the setting per se, but people coming together for longer durations and where the safe distancing measures cannot be respected properly,” he said.

“So it's always better if, in situations like that... consider going back another day or going somewhere else that is less crowded.”

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Covid-19 coronavirus 115 Bukit Merah View cluster coronavirus transmission queue

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