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Singapore hotel used for quarantine may have spread infection

Image via Mandarin Orchard Singapore website / meritushotels.com/mandarin-orchard-singapore

A SINGAPORE hotel suspected of spreading the virus among quarantined travelers has now found signs of past infection among three staffers, raising concern over pockets of undetected transmission in a country that’s largely managed to stamp out local cases.

The Mandarin Orchard, a hotel that welcomed recreational guests while also housing quarantined travelers on designated floors, is now scaling back operations as the Singapore government probes the situation.

Serological tests for 571 of the hotel’s staff have so far indicated the likelihood of past infection for three people, the Singapore Ministry of Health said in a statement on Sunday.

This followed its disclosure on Saturday that 13 cases of infection among travelers quarantining at the Mandarin Orchard had a “high genetic similarity” despite the patients arriving from 10 different countries, raising the suspicion that the hotel has become a site of transmission.

From “preliminary investigations, we cannot exclude that transmissions could have occurred at Mandarin Orchard Singapore,” said the statement.

Quarantine hotels and the management of foreign arrivals have been a vulnerability for many countries as governments try to balance the risk of overseas infection slipping into local communities while allowing some essential travel.

Lapses at a quarantine hotel led to an unprecedented outbreak in Australia’s Victoria state that was contained only through a brutal three-month lockdown, while lax management of air and shipping crew arrivals was blamed for overturning Hong Kong’s containment success earlier this year.

After containing a rampant outbreak among its army of migrant workers, Singapore has been able to keep new cases close to zero for weeks, and is set to ease curbs on movement and gatherings on Dec. 28. The government has also moved ambitiously to restart international travel, allowing quarantine-free visits from places with contained outbreaks, while planning a bubble to house business travelers near the airport.

The 13 infected travelers quarantined at the Mandarin Orchard stayed there between Oct. 22 and Nov. 11 and arrived from places including Bahrain, Canada, Indonesia, Myanmar, the Netherlands, the Philippines, South Korea, the United Arab Emirates, the UK and the US, said the Ministry of Health.

Authorities are conducting analysis on more cases beyond Nov. 11. The hotel has stopped taking visitors for quarantine purposes since Dec. 13 and those currently serving their so-called stay-home notice will be sent to another facility, the government said.

The Mandarin Orchard is one of the hotels approved by authorities to offer staycation packages to Singapore residents eager for a break and unable to leave the country because of travel restrictions. While those in quarantine are housed on dedicated floors and segregated from other guests, fears are growing that infection could have slipped through. — Bloomberg

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