Singapore shuts schools amid warning Indian variant could affect younger children more

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Watch: Singapore tightens COVID-19 curbs amid case spike

Singapore is closing schools amid concerns the Indian coronavirus variant appears to affect younger children more.

Health minister Ong Ye Kung has confirmed that schools in Singapore will be taking extra precautions because of the way the B1.671 variant is thought to affect children.

Citing the health ministry's director of medical services Kenneth Mak, Ye Kung said: “It would appear that the B1617 appears to affect children more so you’ll notice for schools the response of schools has been different compared to say last year.”

Children walk home with their guardians after school in Singapore on May 17, 2021, as the country prepares to shut all schools and switch to home-based learning until the end of the term due to a rise in the number of Covid-19 coronavirus cases. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP) (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Singapore is preparing to shut most schools from this week and draw up plans to vaccinate youngsters. (AFP via Getty Images)

His comments come as the city-state prepares to shut most schools from this week and draw up plans to vaccinate youngsters.

All primary, secondary and junior colleges are shifting to full home-based learning from Wednesday until the end of the school term on 28 May.

Education minister Chan Chun Sing said: "Some of these (virus) mutations are much more virulent, and they seem to attack the younger children.”

Children walk home with their guardians after school in Singapore on May 17, 2021, as the country prepares to shut all schools and switch to home-based learning until the end of the term due to a rise in the number of Covid-19 coronavirus cases. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP) (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Children walk home after school in Singapore, as the country prepares to shut all schools until the end of the term due to a rise in the number of coronavirus cases. (AFP via Getty Images)

None of the children who have contracted the virus are seriously ill and a few have mild symptoms, he added.

On Sunday, Singapore confirmed 38 locally transmitted COVID-19 cases, the highest daily number since mid-September, with 17 currently unlinked. 

The cases included four children linked to a cluster at a tuition centre.

The variant, which was first identified in India and has been strongly linked to a surge in cases, has spread to other countries - with the UK among those with the highest number of recorded cases outside India.

Birmingham public health chief Justin Varney has also warned the variant could be a greater threat to younger age groups.

"There are certainly disturbing images and information coming from India at the moment that suggests that the variant is a significantly greater threat to younger adults than any previous variants, so we are taking it very seriously," he said, according to Birmingham Live.

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His comments come after England's chief medical officer Chris Whitty told a news conference on Friday that the B.1.617.2 variant first found in India will, over time, surpass the so-called "Kent" variant.

He said: "This is more transmissible than the B.1.1.7 (Kent variant), and we expect over time this variant will overtake and come to dominate in the UK, in the way that B.1.1.7 took over,"

Minutes from a Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) meeting last week also warned that the Indian variant could be as much as 50% more transmissible than the B.1.1.7 variant, leading to a “substantial resurgence” of people needing hospital treatment.

Sage also cautioned that proceeding with steps three and four of the government’s roadmap could lead to a “much larger peak” of hospitalisations.

But Boris Johnson signalled his intention to proceed with the next stage of the unlocking from Monday despite the warning.

Watch: Indian variant could delay UK reopening, says Boris Johnson

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