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Singapore bans short-term travellers from Daegu, Cheongdo

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Singapore is refusing entry to all new visitors with recent travel history to Daegu and Cheongdo in South Korea within the last 14 days, even as it announced a breakthrough on Tuesday in what's believed to be the first use of serological testing to uncover links between existing coronavirus clusters here.

SINGAPORE is refusing entry to all new visitors with recent travel history to Daegu and Cheongdo in South Korea within the last 14 days, even as it announced a breakthrough on Tuesday in what's believed to be the first use of serological testing to uncover links between existing coronavirus clusters here.

The serological testing, a type of blood test that looks for antibodies, was used on two suspect cases - 83 and 91 - to determine if they had virus-specific antibodies in their blood, Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement.

This is because the standard laboratory test for Covid-19 infections - a molecular test called Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) - will not work on patients who have recovered and whose immune system has cleared the virus, MOH said.

However, the immune system produces antibodies in response to the infection, and these virus-specific antibodies could stay with the recovered patient for several years, the ministry said.

Developed by a research team at Duke-NUS Medical School, it is believed to be the first time in the world serological testing is used in the context of contact tracing for Covid-19.

With the assistance of the Singapore Police Force, this has helped the ministry link the clusters at Life Church and Missions service on Jan 19, a Chinese New Year family gathering at Mei Hwan Drive on Jan 25, and Grace Assembly of God activities between Jan 29 and Feb 9.

This is because Cases 83 and 91 were present at the Life Church and Missions service and the Chinese New Year gathering at Mei Hwan Drive.

"While we have seen the number of new cases here in Singapore remain low for the last few days, we must be aware that the global situation remains dynamic and we cannot afford to be complacent," Gan Kim Yong, Health Minister and co-chair of a multi-ministry taskforce set up to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, said at a press conference on Tuesday evening, noting the sudden increasing cases in South Korea, Italy and Iran. 

With South Korea now seeing the largest number of cases outside China, Lawrence Wong, National Development Minister and co-chair of the multi-ministry taskforce, said the authorities have decided to take additional precautions for travellers coming from Cheongdo and Daegu, the two cities with the highest number of cases.

The restriction kicks in from Feb 26 at 11.59pm.

As at 12pm on Feb 25, South Korea has reported 893 confirmed cases of Covid-19 infection, of which 501 are from Daegu and 113 from Cheongdo.

The restriction comes after a Feb 23 travel advisory from MOH for Singaporeans to defer non-essential travel to Daegu and Cheongdo, and is similar to what the Republic has put in place for short-term travellers from China.

Mr Wong said a more stringent restriction on travellers from the whole of South Korea may be imposed if the virus spreads beyond the two cities.

Returning residents and long-term pass holders will be placed on Stay-Home Notice, he added.