Changi Airport worker helping South Asia family likely led to COVID cluster: CAG

·Editorial Team
·3-min read
Travellers enter the check-in area at the departure hall of Changi International Airport in Singapore on March 15, 2021. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP) (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Travellers enter the check-in area at the departure hall of Changi International Airport in Singapore on 15 March 2021. (PHOTO: AFP via Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — The initial transmission of COVID-19 in the Changi Airport cluster may have occurred through an airport worker who was helping a family from South Asia, who arrived in Singapore on 29 April and were subsequently found to be infected.

In a press release uploaded on the Changi Airport Group (CAG) website on Friday (21 May), the CAG said that phylogenetic testing results for an initial batch of infected airport workers indicated that they originated from a common source, as they were found to be similar and of the India variant, or B.1.617.

Further investigations by the Ministry of Health and the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) are ongoing, the CAG added.

The group also confirmed that as of Thursday, 43 airport workers have tested positive for COVID-19. These workers are part of the 100 cases identified to be linked to the cluster at the airport – the largest of 24 active clusters and of its kind to be recorded in Singapore to date.

"Most of these cases were detected early – cases peaked around 13 May, with very few cases among airport workers subsequently. None of the cases are in serious condition, require oxygen or are in the Intensive Care Unit," said the CAG.

Of them, 10 were discovered via a special testing operation of some 19,000 frontline workers and office workers in the Changi Airport Passenger Terminal Buildings (PTBs) and Jewel.

Thirty-three others were detected through other means, such as while serving quarantine orders or during the rostered routine testing regime.

The CAG added that all airport workers who were working around T3 Basement 2 and had tested negative for COVID-19 in their first test have been rostered to take an additional COVID-19 test since Thursday.

These results are pending, it added.

In addition, all arriving passengers from very high-risk countries or regions must undergo on-arrival antigen rapid tests (ART), on top of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test from Thursday.

From next Monday, airport workers in higher-risk roles will also be required to take an additional ART between their seven-day rostered routine tests.

"While an ART is less sensitive than a PCR test, it provides an additional layer of screening. The quicker turnaround time of an ART compared to a PCR test will allow for public health actions to be taken more quickly for persons who test positive by ART," said the CAG.

Over 90 per cent of frontline aviation workers have been vaccinated to date since the start of the Sea-Air Vaccination Exercise (SAVE) in January.

"We are working with the aviation community to vaccinate more workers within the next few weeks," said the group.

The CAG also announced that additional cleaning and disinfection of Changi Airport PTBs and Jewel have been completed. They will remain closed to members of the public till the end of the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) period. 

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