Singapore’s approach to managing Covid-19 is ‘correct’: Minister
It has helped avert 'massive deaths' and he sees 'light at end of tunnel'
In managing the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore took neither a "zero-Covid-19" nor a "living with Covid-19" approach.
When the population was vulnerable, an eradication strategy was adopted, but the country has been opening up progressively since vaccination has given Singaporeans a protective shield.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said this yesterday morning in his opening address at the virtual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society Asia-Pacific Conference.
"Some may feel that this middle-of-the-road approach is unclear, and may even appear to be a 'flip-flop'. But it has helped us avert the massive deaths that many countries have suffered from," he said.
"It is the correct approach for Singapore and, day by day, we are moving closer to the light at the end of the tunnel."
Infection numbers have shot up in recent weeks and there have been more related deaths. The Health Ministry is mobilising more manpower, such as from polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab operations, since the ministry is doing fewer of them. A total of 1,600 trained volunteers have stepped forward to help. Healthcare protocols have also been simplified, and the ministry is roping in private sector hospitals to help share the burden.
These are the three categories under the new protocols: People who have symptoms and test positive for Covid-19; those who have no symptoms but test positive; and close contacts of a positive case.
This simpler set of rules for Covid-19 patients and their close contacts was rolled out from Oct 11, bringing an end to quarantine orders and leave of absence notices.
The aim is to make healthcare protocols easier to understand and reduce the burden on government resources, including phone operators and quarantine officers.
The new rules override some existing ones and allow people to resume daily life after a preset amount of time rather than wait for official test results.
They also mean that Singapore's Covid-19 strategy now relies heavily on antigen rapid tests, which typically produce results in 15 minutes and can be self-administered.
Results from PCR tests, processed in laboratories, take six to 12 hours for clinically urgent cases.
In his speech, Mr Ong also mentioned how digital technology has disrupted many industries and that healthcare will also be affected. But he noted that the healthcare sector is complex and unlikely to see disruption happening as quickly.
There are significant policy, regulatory and public confidence issues to be addressed before digital technology can be fully harnessed to transform and improve healthcare systems around the world, he said.
Disrupting essential call centre ops is illegal, warn authorities
The authorities will not hesitate to take action against people who disrupt essential call centre operations or encourage others to do so. This includes those who call the National Care Hotline and other government phone lines "with the intention of overwhelming and disrupting" such operations.
"The incitement and carrying out of actions that aim to disrupt any essential call centre operations is illegal," said the ministries of Health and Social and Family Development on Sunday, in response to queries from The Straits Times.
"We take this matter very seriously and will not hesitate to work with the police and enforcement agencies to take action where necessary."
Last week, several chat groups and channels on messaging app Telegram had called on members to "flood" government phone lines - including both ministries' hotlines - under the guise of giving feedback on the latest measures that bar unvaccinated people from entering malls and other public spaces.
"Get people to demand this gets pushed up to the call centre manager. And ask for them to revert back," the message said. "Otherwise call again tmr (tomorrow) and ask for any feedback."
These chat groups and channels are public, meaning that anyone can join them or view their messages.
Checks by The Straits Times found that the message was sent to at least one group with nearly 3,000 members, and subsequently posted in the group founder's personal channel. These messages had not been taken down as at yesterday, although in one instance the word "flood" was changed to "call".
In their joint statement, the ministries said the hotlines are important channels for Singaporeans in need to seek timely help. They urged everyone to exercise social responsibility and not deny genuine callers the opportunity to seek help.
The Health Ministry saw a surge in calls to its hotline last month, as people on the home recovery programme dialled in to ask for help relating to their specific circumstances. This resulted in complaints after some people were not able to reach a phone operator.
"With the already high call volumes... such spamming will lengthen waiting times and frustrate genuine callers and may, in some cases, keep some Singaporeans from receiving critical assistance," the ministries said.
Singapore sees 2,553 new cases and six more Covid deaths
Six Singaporeans, aged 78 to 93, have died of complications linked to Covid-19, taking Singapore's virus death toll to 239.
Four were men and two were women, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said yesterday.
Four were unvaccinated. Of the remaining two, one was vaccinated and the other was partially vaccinated.
All of them had underlying medical conditions, MOH said in its daily update, without giving further details.
Of those who died of such complications over the past 28 days, 25.5 per cent were fully vaccinated and the rest were either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. Deaths linked to Covid-19 have been recorded daily since Sept 20.
There were 2,553 new Covid-19 infections in total, comprising 2,008 new cases in the community, 544 in migrant worker dormitories and one imported case.
The local cases included 359 people above 60 years old.
Among the large clusters that are being closely monitored, six had new cases.
Bukit Batok Home for the Aged had eight new cases, bringing its total to 52. These include 51 residents and one employee.
Two new cases were also added to United Medicare Centre in Toa Payoh, bringing the size of the cluster to 128.
Of these, 109 are residents, 18 are staff and one is a household contact of a case.
My World Preschool at Hougang Dewcourt had two new cases for 16 in total.
Of the 16 cases, three are staff, nine are students and four are household contacts of cases.
One new case was each added to St Andrew's Nursing Home in Taman Jurong, MWS Christalite Methodist Home in Marsiling, and Apex Harmony Lodge in Pasir Ris.
The total number of cases in Singapore now stands at 150,731.
As at yesterday, there were 15,132 patients in home recovery, 3,209 in community care facilities and 858 in Covid-19 treatment facilities.
There were 1,714 patients in hospital, up from 1,651 on Sunday, with 337 patients requiring oxygen support.
There were 67 patients in the intensive care unit. - THE STRAITS TIMES
By the numbers
In community, dormitories