Hospitals stretched with 6-7% beds used by Covid-19 patients, but mask mandate not needed, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Hospitals stretched with 6-7% beds used by Covid-19 patients, but mask mandate not needed

The current Covid-19 wave has possibly peaked, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, as the latest data shows three straight days of falling infection numbers.

While the 600-700 hospital beds now occupied by Covid-19 patients has put a strain on Singapore’s 10,000-bed strong healthcare system, there is no need to mandate mask wearing, he said at the opening of Woodlands Health that includes an integrated acute and community hospital and specialist clinics.

While the seven-day moving average showed 6,060 infections on Dec 20, down from a high of 7,870 on Dec 12, the number of people who were seriously ill after being infected with the virus continued to rise. This has resulted in record number of hospital and ICU admissions for Covid-19 infections for the year.

In the week ending Dec 16, another 965 people were admitted to hospitals with Covid-19, up from 763 the previous week. Patients who were admitted to intensive care units (ICU) also rose from 23 the previous week to 32 last week.

Both types of admissions were the highest recorded weekly numbers for the year – and almost double the high in the infection wave in April 2023. The lowest for 2023 were 53 hospital admissions and zero ICU admissions in a week.

For the latest week, an average of 560 people were in hospital on any one day, including some children 11 years and younger. In the past month, no child needed ICU care because of Covid-19.

Experts say hospitalisation and need of intensive care always lag infections, which have been rising for four weeks running – from 10,726 infections in the week of Nov 12-18, to 58,300 in the week of Dec 10-16.

Associate Professor Alex Cook of the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health warned: “We have to remember that severe cases will typically peak after the mild cases peak, so even if the peak cases has already come, we may need to wait a while before the impact on the healthcare system starts to get better.”

He also said that greater mixing and mingling over the Christmas and New Year weekends may also see the number of infections going up. “Just because the cases dipped does not yet mean the wave has peaked, and the wave isn’t over until cases have come down again.”

While Mr Ong also warned of a possible “slight surge” with the coming year-end festivities, he is confident that this wave is now under control.

He said that many people have asked him to reinstate the mandate for people to wear masks, especially on public transport. If it is necessary to do so, Singapore will mandate it, but for “this wave, we can withstand this without additional safe distancing measures”, he said

He added: “But we appeal to everyone, when you are sick, to wear a mask, do stay at home. If you have to come into contact with someone, do wear a mask.”

He again stressed the importance of being up to date with Covid-19 vaccination, “at least once a year, especially if you are senior, and have underlying conditions”.

He explained that this is necessary because the effect of the vaccine wears off in about one to 1½ years.

To make it easier for people to get their vaccine, he said the strategy needs to change since few people, now that Covid-19 is endemic, would want to go to a dedicated centre for their jabs. Instead, he plans to get more general practitioners to provide the vaccine.

He wants as many seniors as possible to keep up to date with the vaccine “so that next year, if we have another wave – and we will – we will be much more prepared”.