SINGAPORE, Sept 4 — The Singapore government will not revert to stricter infection controls despite recent elevated numbers of Covid-19 case, because the country has entered a “new phase” where high levels of vaccine coverage are protecting Singaporeans from the virus, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.
Speaking at a press conference, Wong, a co-chair of the Government’s Covid-19 task force, said that Singapore would revert to a tightened posture only as a last resort, to prevent the country’s hospital system from being overwhelmed.
Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at the Ministry of Health (MOH), said that the number of coronavirus infections in Singapore had increased from an average of 58 cases a day in the week before to 132 cases a day in the past week.
Some 88 per cent of the population who are eligible for vaccination had completed their full vaccination regimen as of Thursday, MOH said in its latest update yesterday. This translates to about 80 per cent of the total population.
Wong said: “In the past, when we have a situation of such high daily cases, we would have looked to measures like a heightened alert, or even a circuit breaker (to halt activities) to control the infection.”
“But we are in a new phase, where we have a high level of vaccine coverage to protect Singaporeans. And we are now moving into a phase of living with Covid and becoming Covid-resilient, and so we assess that there is no need to impose heightened restrictions.”
Giving an overview of the situation at hospitals here, Dr Mak said that there has not been a significant surge in the number of patients who require intensive care, despite a spike in the number of community cases.
Admissions to intensive care units (ICUs) have “held relatively steady”, he said, adding that the number of persons in ICUs stood at around six to seven in the last week, with those requiring oxygen support trending downwards.
Based on the confirmed cases reported as of Thursday, 528 patients were admitted in acute care hospitals here, with five of them in ICUs and another 27 requiring oxygen aid in the general wards, he added. Those admitted to ICUs were all either not vaccinated or only partially vaccinated.
“The measures introduced reduced close-contact encounters sufficiently to ensure that the number of new cases that emerged were sufficiently suppressed, so that the demand for hospital isolation beds and ICU beds could well be met by the available resources that we have in our healthcare system,” Dr Mak said.
No plans to open up more
Wong said that Singapore does not intend to make any further moves to opening up yet, because there is a time lag between the onset of infections and serious illnesses and deaths.
“We want to take some time to monitor the situation.”
He noted that Singapore is still piloting a number of initiatives, including the Vaccinated Travel Lane with Germany and Brunei.
“We want to allow these pilots to continue over the next few days and weeks before we contemplate further moves.”
Elaborating on this in a press release, MOH said that Singapore will stay in its current “preparatory stage”, while public health measures are being refined and pilot projects, such as the home recovery scheme for infected individuals with mild or no symptoms, are being rolled out.
Dr Mak also gave an update on the spread of Covid-19 detected among bus drivers.
More than 7,000 staff members working at bus interchanges were tested as part of the authorities’ surveillance efforts, with about 2 per cent of them coming back positive, he said.
A total of 341 cases had been traced to eight bus interchanges as of Sept 2.
Dr Mak added: “It will take the rest of this week for the situation to stabilise and we anticipate that the number of cases from the interchanges may start coming down in the following week.”
He disclosed that the clusters at the Bugis Junction mall and the bus interchanges have involved people who are relatively young or did not carry risk factors for worse outcomes.
More than 98 per cent of them are expected to recover without much need for further medical care.
Asked if the large numbers of cases with no known sources of infection in the past few days is a concern, Dr Mak said that they are “not necessarily a cause for worry” since most cases first reported as having no links to confirmed cases in MOH’s daily reports were eventually linked.
Over the week, there were 90 unlinked cases on Wednesday, 113 on Thursday, and 109 on Friday.
He added that these cases were only “provisionally tagged as unlinked” because a higher caseload made it more difficult for the authorities to establish the links in time for the daily reporting cycle.
As the days go by, the links would be established, he explained, noting that there would be more opportunities for linking cases to clusters when phylogenetic testing is completed. Phylogenetic testing helps scientists deduce the index or first known case of a cluster.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, another task force co-chair, said that the need to link cases so as to trace and eliminate their source becomes less important once the country is prepared to live with Covid-19 circulating among the population, with the disease being treated as endemic ”like influenza”.
Therefore, it is timely for MOH to revamp the format of its daily reports again, he said.
“Our strategy must now change The stage of the battle has moved on, so where we focus on in terms of controlling the pandemic must also shift, which is why our daily reports must also reflect our new strategy.”
The daily reports should, for instance, include more timely information about the emerging clusters so that the public may regulate their own activities and avoid certain places, Ong added. — TODAY