Singapore on Saturday reported its first two confirmed deaths related to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The city-state's health ministry said the two patients who died were a 75-year-old woman, and a 64-year-old man.
The female patient had pre-existing conditions including heart disease, while the male patient had been hospitalized in Indonesia for pneumonia, and also had a history of heart disease, according to the health ministry.
Singapore has been lauded globally for its approach in managing the outbreak, with no fatalities before Saturday even as deaths have surged elsewhere in Asia and worldwide. The tiny Southeast Asian state was one of the earliest countries to report cases of COVID-19, and was also at the frontline of the SARS epidemic in Asia 17 years ago.
In February, the World Health Organization said it was "very impressed" with the way the city-state has managed the outbreak. "We are very impressed with the efforts they are making to find every case, follow up with contacts, and stop transmission," it said in February.
Professor Dale Fisher, who chairs the WHO's Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, said Singapore has been very good at shutting down transmission chains, local newspaper the Straits Times reported on Saturday.
But the number of cases in Singapore surged this week as compared to earlier in March and February. Most of the new cases were imported — attributed to travelers returning to the country from the United States, Europe or other parts of Asia.
The daily new cases had jumped past 40 this week, versus below 10 at the lows earlier in March. The total number of cases were at 385, as of Friday.
Singapore has been stepping up restrictions, including ordering all travelers to serve out a 14-day self quarantine period when they arrive in the country. It also suspended gatherings of 250 people or more, and strongly advised employers to let staff work from home, or implement staggered working hours.
Restaurants and malls in the city state are still open, but authorities ordered such establishments to keep customers at least one meter (three feet) apart.