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US CDC cautions against travel to Singapore in ‘bizarre’ move

The designation came as a surprise in Singapore, which maintains far stricter testing and social distancing measures than in the US.
Image: Lauryn Ishak/Bloomberg

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Tuesday urged Americans to avoid traveling to Singapore entirely, reclassifying its Covid-19 advisory for the city-state and saying the situation there is now “unknown.”

The change stems from a lack of testing data that the CDC used to get from data aggregator Our World in Data. That information hasn’t been updated since November 8, the CDC said in an email to Bloomberg.

The designation came as a surprise in Singapore, which maintains far stricter testing and social distancing measures than in the US, and where the city-state’s Ministry of Health posts detailed virus statistics, in English, on its website every day.

“I do think it’s bizarre,” said Ooi Eng Eong, a professor of emerging infectious diseases at Duke-NUS Medical School, adding that Singapore tests so much that “we know more than what most people look for.”

“Clearly some are more comprehensive than others, and I would think that Singapore is among those that are extremely comprehensive in our surveillance,” said Ooi.

Singapore, which was previously classified under the CDC’s highest Covid-19 risk level, has seen local cases fall from more than 4 000 a day in late October to less than 400 a day now.

The city-state has resisted closing its borders again amid a surge of imported omicron cases that have arrived from the U.S. and Europe, where the variant is widespread.

Singapore’s hospitalizations remain low, with more intensive care unit beds available than in use. The country is also bolstered by one of the highest vaccination rates in the world – 87% of the total population are fully inoculated and more than 40% have gotten their booster shots.

Yet for the CDC, Singapore is now placed in the same classification category as Afghanistan, North Korea and Syria, as well as microstates in the Pacific that don’t have the infrastructure for complex data reporting.

CDC said in a statement to Bloomberg that it evaluates primary criteria including cumulative new case counts and case trajectory information provided directly by health ministries to the World Health Organization.

Secondary criteria data, such as tests conducted per capita and test-to-case ratio, are obtained from places like Our World in Data and ministry of health websites. It’s measured over a 28-day period and reviewed daily.

In a statement on its website, CDC said that “if a destination does not provide data, their THN level is designated as ‘unknown’ and travelers are advised to follow THN Level 4 recommendations,” which is to avoid travel there entirely.

“Because the current situation in Singapore is unknown, even fully vaccinated travelers may be at risk for getting and spreading Covid-19 variants,” the CDC said.

The US agency has reversed errant designations before. In September, the CDC mistakenly flagged Hong Kong as a growing risk for Covid, despite minimal cases there at the time. It later revised the designation down to its lowest risk level.

Singapore reported a total of 842 new Covid-19 cases as of noon on January 4. Of those, 334 were in the community, 6 were in foreign worker dormitories, and 502 were imported.

(With assistance from Kyunghee Park and Low De Wei)

© 2022 Bloomberg

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