Suspected Omicron Covid-19 cases to be taken to NCID, no home recovery allowed
People suspected of having the new Omicron coronavirus variant will be isolated at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases until doctors are confident they are no longer infectious through repeat testing.
They will not be allowed to recover at home, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Tuesday (Nov 30).
Full contact tracing will also be carried out for confirmed cases, with patients' close contacts to be quarantined for 10 days at dedicated facilities instead of being able to isolate themselves at home.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests will be conducted at the start and end of the quarantine period for such individuals, with swab samples prioritised for genetic sequencing to ascertain if they have the Omicron variant.
"The healthcare protocols will be a lot stricter and quite similar to the initial protocols we implemented when we first encountered Covid-19," Mr Ong said at a press conference.
Mr Ong also observed that a particular PCR test, produced by biotechnology firm ThermoFisher, can indicate if a person is likely to have been infected by the Omicron variant.
This test will be prioritised for use on travellers, he said, adding that it is not foolproof but will allow Singapore to act faster and implement differentiated healthcare protocols.
In a way, people can think about it as having two separate viruses in Singapore, Mr Ong said.
"We'll have two separate variants, two separate sets of healthcare protocols. One set for Delta, one set for Omicron, and the way to differentiate it is the ThermoFisher PCR tests," he said.
Mr Ong compared the current situation to a game of snakes and ladders, where the outcome of the next throw of the die remains unknown.
If the Omicron variant is more infectious or harmful, with vaccines not working well against it, Singapore will have landed on a "snake", he said. "We will go down, and it will set us back a long way."
But if the new variant is more infectious but milder, it may become dominant over the Delta variant - a positive sign. This will enable Singapore to move towards living with Covid-19, Mr Ong said.
In the meantime, the country should take the prudent approach - implementing appropriate measures to prevent the new variant from establishing itself in the community, he added.