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Marina Bay Sands casino closes as virus spreads in Singapore

THE MARINA Bay Sands casino in Singapore will shut for two weeks after authorities detected a COVID cluster, the latest to emerge after an outbreak at a fishery port that pushed the government to reimpose social restrictions.

Eleven COVID cases have been linked to the casino owned by Las Vegas Sands Corp., prompting the decision to close until Aug. 5 for deep cleaning and to break the spread of the virus, the Health Ministry said on Thursday. Testing will be done on all staff working at the casino, which is part of a larger complex including a hotel, dining and luxury shopping mall.

The Marina Bay Sands casino cluster is a fraction of the 179 new coronavirus cases found on Wednesday. Most of those cases that day came from a fishery port cluster which appears to be at the epicenter of a resurgence in infections found in food markets, karaoke clubs and now one of two casinos in Singapore.

Singapore’s Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said the fishery cluster prompted it to reimpose stricter measures, including a ban on dining-in and limiting social interactions, starting from today.

“Unfortunately, while our fishmongers and stall assistants were going about earning an honest living, they got infected at the Port,” Mr. Ong said in a Facebook post. “As they went on to work at various markets around the island, many more cases in the community were seeded.”

Smaller clusters and a smattering of cases have since emerged across 41 food markets in Singapore. Although authorities are racing to track the fishmongers who visited the fishery port by offering free tests to them, supermarkets and food markets largely remain open.

Heath officials have speculated that the COVID infection from the fishery port cluster may have been introduced by fishing vessels from either Indonesia or other nearby countries. They said the virus variant detected from the cluster is similar to infections found in people coming into Singapore from Indonesia, which has become the new virus epicenter of Asia.

While Singapore’s cases are far less than the thousands of daily cases in Indonesia and Malaysia, the country is closely watched as its government tries to become the first major economy in Asia to transition away from a COVID-zero approach to instead treating the virus as endemic and more fully reopening.

Singapore initially pledged to announce further easing of curbs in the second half of July — when more than 50% of the population is fully vaccinated — and again when it hits the two-thirds mark around National Day on Aug. 9.

However, the resurgence in cases, the third such one this year after an outbreak in Changi Airport in May and a food market just outside the central business district in June, has raised the likelihood of a longer delay in reopening Singapore’s borders.

Health Minister Ong said about half of Singapore’s population has received two doses of vaccine and he expects the number to rise by a percentage point daily to about 64% or more in two weeks’ time. “That will put us in a much stronger and resilient position when we review” the restrictions, he said in the social media post.

Singapore has halted indoor exercise and cut social gatherings to two people from five, while banning dining in. These measures are expected to be reviewed in two weeks. — Bloomberg

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