Contact Tracer Pool Grows As Cases Rise, Health News & Top Stories

Singapore’s contact tracer pool at the Ministry of Health (MOH) has grown from 300 to around 500 to deal with the recent surge in Covid-19 cases, with more contagious variants of the virus having surfaced.

The ministry said close contacts of infected patients are quickly identified and isolated to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Most of the new workforce at the Ministry of Health’s contact tracing center comes from the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), which has provided around 160 people.

Meanwhile, police contracted three organizations in a $ 327,000 tender awarded last month to provide support manpower.

More details were not available from the police, but it is understood that last year a similar tender was issued. Police have been assisting in contacting search efforts here since last year.

Professor Vernon Lee, who heads the Department of Health’s contact tracing center, told the Sunday Times that the current count of 500 tracers is still lower than the two-month breaker, which began in April of the last year.

At one point, the center had around 1,000 people to deal with the huge volume of new cases of the virus daily, which could exceed 1,000 on some days. In comparison, daily new cases over the past two months have rarely exceeded 50.

The recent spike in cases prompted the government last month to put additional security measures in place, bringing Singapore back on heightened alert as part of phase two of its reopening, starting with phase three.

This year’s peak is lower than last year, but contact tracing has increased in volume.

“Each case is now more complex due to the availability of much more data,” Professor Lee said. This includes TraceTogether data, which automatically records the close contacts of a Covid-19 patient.

Over 90% of the population uses the TraceTogether app or token. This means more resources are needed to analyze the data, but tracers now work smarter with more data analysis tools, Professor Lee said.

Geospatial tools, for example, help find potential links between cases across their locations. These tools would have helped authorities understand that a wet market in Bukit Merah View was the source of many recent infections.

Compared to last year, close contacts must be quickly found due to more transmissible Covid-19 variants, Professor Lee said.

Targeted testing is also carried out to help tracers identify suspected cases more quickly. For example, residents of Housing Board buildings, shops and markets where cases have been reported have been tested.

“With all of these tools, we were able to identify cases, test them faster and lock them in,” Professor Lee said. “We felt that we didn’t need to go into a circuit breaker because we could check the numbers just before phase two (heightened alert).”

Contact tracer Faris Abdul Wahab, 50, said data like that from TraceTogether helps fill in the gaps as more people use the system, but he still needs to verify information with cases. And when called upon, human contact is vital.

Mr Faris, who was previously a flight attendant at Singapore Airlines, said communication issues were among the biggest challenges.

People can be uncooperative, aggressive and abusive on the phone. And some, like migrant workers, may simply not speak English well.

“We try to be patient,” Mr. Faris said.

They may have to ask questions in different ways to get answers.

But most people are cooperative.

Lt. Isabel Seah, 22, an SAF infantry officer, said: “We are always grateful when they are very patient with us, as contact tracing can be quite tedious.”

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