Singapore's extensive surveillance during a two-month-long virus battle has won international praise but it is seeing a surge in cases in recent days. South Korea, where early testing helped slow transmission, is now seeing 100 new cases per day.

Taped-off areas for customers to distance themselves from each other are seen at a food court due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Singapore on March 25, 2020.
Taped-off areas for customers to distance themselves from each other are seen at a food court due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Singapore on March 25, 2020. (Reuters)

Getting within a metre of another person at a restaurant or a shopping queue in Singapore can now land you in prison under some of the toughest punishments seen worldwide to implement social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The city-state's no-nonsense approach and extensive surveillance during a two-month-long virus battle has won international praise, and had allowed it to largely avoid curtailing daily life until a surge of cases in the last week.

But confusion over some of the new measures has seen some call for a clearer stance such as total lockdowns like those seen in Britain, France and Italy.

"Easier to lockdown than to have so many new rules to remember," Facebook user Meng Yang commented on a local news article about the new measures.

Others questioned whether the rules would apply to public transport during busy commuting hours or between family members.

"I can't sit opposite my son or wife as well? Will my son be jailed? He is only 7," wrote another user Damian Chee.

The updates to Singapore's powerful infectious diseases law which came into effect on Friday have been accompanied by other measures such as shutting bars and limiting gatherings to up to 10 people outside work and school.

Singapore reported 73 new cases on Wednesday – its biggest daily jump – and a further 52 infections on Thursday, taking its total to 683.

China cuts international flights

Mainland China reported its first locally transmitted coronavirus case in three days and 54 new imported cases, as Beijing ordered airlines to sharply cut international flights, for fear travellers could reignite the coronavirus outbreak.

Thursday's 55 new cases were down from 67 a day earlier, the National Health Commission said in a statement on Friday, taking the tally of infections to 81,340, as five new deaths raised the toll to 3,292.

Imported infections, mostly among Chinese nationals returning home, now pose the biggest concern for authorities.

The commercial capital of Shanghai reported the most new imported cases with 17, followed by 12 in the southern province of Guangdong and four each in the capital Beijing and the nearby city of Tianjin.

Shanghai now has 125 patients who arrived from overseas, including 46 from Britain and 27 from the United States.

The central province of Hubei, with a population of about 60 million, where the virus first appeared late last year, reported no new cases on Thursday, a day after lifting a lockdown and reopening its borders as the epidemic eased there.

South Korea urges residents to stay in isolation

Authorities in South Korea pleaded with residents on Friday to stay indoors and avoid large gatherings as new coronavirus cases hovered close to 100 per day, including multiple people working on an American military base in the country.

South Korea reported 91 new coronavirus cases on Friday, taking the national tally to 9,332, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

The country has reported similar daily numbers for the past two weeks, down from a high of over 900 in late February.

The government has sought to convince a restless public that several more weeks of social distancing and self-isolation may be needed to allow health authorities to tamp down the smaller but still steady stream of new cases.

"As the weather is getting nicer, I know many of you may have plans to go outside," Yoon Tae-ho, director-general for public health policy at the health ministry, told a briefing.

"But social distancing cannot be successful when it’s only an individual, it needs to be the whole community."

US military reports new coronavirus cases

The US military command this week also moved to try to restrict the movements of roughly 28,500 American troops stationed in South Korea.

On Friday United States Forces Korea (USFK) reported that an American contractor had tested positive, the third case to be confirmed this week among Americans working at the sprawling Camp Humphreys, which hosts the headquarters of the US military command in South Korea.

Late on Thursday, an American soldier stationed at the camp south of Seoul tested positive, as did another American contractor also working there earlier this week.

That makes 12 –– including two soldiers –– related to USFK to test positive.

Officials are seeking to trace the patients' previous movements, including the soldier, who was at work and other locations at Camp Humphreys as late as the day she tested positive.

USFK declared a public health emergency, which gives commanders more authority to ensure "total force compliance" with regulations aimed at stopping the spread of the disease by restricting the movements of not only troops but also their families, as well as other civilians who work on the bases.

"We cannot allow the actions of a few, who knowingly and selfishly take matters into their own hands, place the rest of population at an unacceptable level of risk," USFK said in a letter this week.

"Leaders have a responsibility to do everything in their power to protect all members of the team and make certain no one can infiltrate our protective ‘bubbles'."

As recently as Wednesday a Facebook page affiliated with Camp Humphreys was advertising entertainment events for Thursday and Friday.

It is unclear if those gatherings were cancelled, but new statements on the camp's social media sites said as of Friday all movement on the base was restricted to "only bare necessities, which means food and life-health-safety."

Source: AFP