SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Singapore is near, if not already at, the peak of the current wave of Covid-19 infections, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Tuesday (July 5).
He told Parliament that the number of cases is expected to cross 12,000 on Tuesday - about 10 per cent higher than the same time last week.
"There are indications that we are near the peak, if not at the peak, and we should be relieved that the number this week did not double from last week. Otherwise, we'll be at 24,000 or 22,000 this week," said Ong.
He said the current wave will not be as severe as the previous Omicron wave, as many people have gained stronger immunity through booster shots or recovery from infections, which will reduce transmission of the virus.
The key, as before, is to ensure that hospital capacity is not overly stressed, he added in response to questions from MPs.
Ong said the number of Covid-19 hospitalisations here have reached almost 700, though this remains below the figure of around 1,700 cases during the Omicron wave earlier this year.
Responding to Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang), he said the hospitals have cut back about 4 per cent of the load from non-Covid-19 patients - these are mostly elective procedures - compared to a cut of 15 per cent during the earlier wave.
With public hospitals continuing to face high demand, Ong said more Covid-19 Treatment Facilities (CTFs) could be converted to take in non-Covid-19 patients.
One existing CTF at Sengkang Community Hospital has been reconfigured to cater to both sets of patients, he noted.
"Overtime, we hope more of our CTFs can be multi-purpose isolation and treatment facilities, for both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients," he said.
Giving an update on Covid-19 healthcare subsidies, he told the House that the Government has spent about $730 million and $220 million on subsidising inpatient and outpatient treatments for Covid-19 respectively as at the end of the 2021 financial year.
Ong also said the authorities are stepping up efforts to get as many people as possible to take the vacccine and booster jab.
About 60,000 seniors aged 60 and above have not taken their first booster or third shot, he said.
Encouraging these seniors to do so, he said: "It makes a huge difference as to whether you will fall severely sick if infected."
This 60,000 number is an improvement from the 80,000 seniors who had yet to take their booster shots as of June 20, the day Mr Ong uploaded a video clip on TikTok to urge them to get their jabs.
To ensure that the majority of Covid cases can continue to be managed outside of hospitals, all polyclinics and 103 participating Public Health Preparedness Clinics can, as of June 30, prescribe oral antivirals such as Paxlovid to those who are eligible, he said.
MOH has also made these antivirals more readily available in nursing homes as early treatment to help reduce the risk of severe disease and hospitalisation, while medication given before exposure to Covid to protect those who are, for instance, not able to take the current vaccines, is available in hospital outpatient settings for at-risk populations.
"Our hospitals remain ready to ramp up dedicated ICU (intensive care unit) and isolation bed capacity should there be an increase in the number of Covid-19 patients who require hospitalisation," he said.
He added that the hospitals have started to do so, "They are already doing so and they are now very busy," he said.
Sufficient beds are also being maintained at the CTFs to manage serious cases that do not need hospital care, he said.
"We have recently consolidated our CTFs, from about 2,000 beds to 1,300 beds but with higher manning ration, and this will make it easier to transfer patients from acute hospitals to the CTFs without a significant drop in level of care," said Ong.
The CTFs are now about 25 per cent occupied.
MOH data shows that as of July 4, a total of 631 Covid-19 patients are hospitalised, with 14 in the intensive care unit.