Singapore facing new Covid-19 wave; vaccination recommended especially for seniors, says health minister


To protect bed capacity, public hospitals have been asked to reduce their non-urgent elective surgery cases. - PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN): Singapore is seeing a new Covid-19 wave, with rising cases of infection in the last two weeks, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on May 18.

“We are at the beginning part of the wave where it is steadily rising,” said Mr Ong. “So I would say the wave should peak in the next two to four weeks, which means between mid- and end of June.”

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said that to protect hospital bed capacity and as a precaution, public hospitals have been asked to reduce their non-urgent elective surgery cases and move suitable patients to facilities like transitional care facilities or back home through Mobile Inpatient Care@Home.

Mr Ong urged those who are at greatest risk of severe disease, including individuals aged 60 years and above, medically vulnerable individuals and residents of aged care facilities, to receive an additional dose of the Covid-19 vaccine if they have not done so in the last 12 months.

MOH said the estimated number of Covid-19 cases in the week of May 5 to May 11 rose to 25,900 cases, compared with 13,700 cases in the previous week. The average daily Covid-19 hospitalisations rose to about 250 from 181 the week before. The average daily intensive care unit (ICU) cases remained low at three cases, compared with two cases in the previous week.

Mr Ong said that if the number of Covid-19 cases doubles one time, Singapore will have 500 patients in its healthcare system, which is what Singapore can handle. However, if the number of cases doubles a second time, there will be 1,000 patients, and “that will be a considerable burden on the hospital system”, he noted.

“One thousand beds is equivalent to one regional hospital,” Mr Ong said. “So I think the healthcare system has to brace ourselves for what is to come.”

There are no plans for any form of social restrictions or any other mandatory type of measures for now, as Covid-19 is treated as an endemic disease in Singapore, he said, adding that imposing additional measures would be a last resort.

Mr Ong said that with Singapore being a transport and communications hub, it will be one of the cities to get a wave of Covid-19 earlier than others.

“So Covid-19 is just something that we have to live with. Every year, we should expect one or two waves,” he said.

Mr Ong was speaking to the media on the sidelines of the Community in Review 2024 Conference – Thriving with Age: Building a World of Active Ageing at the Furama Riverfront.

Globally, the predominant Covid-19 variants are still JN.1 and its sub-lineages, including KP.1 and KP.2. Currently, KP.1 and KP.2 account for over two-thirds of cases in Singapore.

As at May 3, the World Health Organisation has classified KP.2 as a variant under monitoring. There are currently no indications, globally or locally, that KP.1 and KP.2 are more transmissible or cause more severe disease than other circulating variants, MOH said.

However, members of the public are urged to stay updated with vaccination to protect themselves against current and emerging virus strains. MOH said that to date, about 80 per cent of the local population have completed their initial or additional dose, but have not received a dose within the last year.

The ministry added that since Covid-19 vaccination started in 2020 to 2021, the vaccines have consistently been proven to be safe and effective in protecting individuals from severe illness. Billions of doses have been administered globally, and safety monitoring internationally has shown that the vaccine is safe, it said.

There have also been no long-term safety concerns with Covid-19 vaccination, and adverse effects from vaccines, including the mRNA vaccines, have all been observed to occur shortly after vaccination, the ministry added.

Based on local data, keeping updated with vaccination – which is receiving an additional dose within the last year – has continued to be a key effective measure in preventing severe Covid-19 illness requiring hospitalisation or ICU admission, MOH said.

During the peak month of the JN.1 wave in December 2023, the incidence rate of Covid-19 hospitalisations and ICU admissions among seniors aged 60 years and above was 25 per cent higher in those who had not kept their vaccination updated compared with those who had, it added.

The updated Covid-19 vaccines continue to be free for all eligible residents. Those enrolled in Healthier SG can now receive their vaccination at about 250 participating Healthier SG clinics islandwide.

Over the next few months, MOH will progressively expand the network of Healthier SG clinics offering Covid-19 vaccination to ensure its ready accessibility to the community. The public is advised to book their Covid-19 vaccination appointments via the Health Appointment System at https://book.health.gov.sg/covid or call the clinics directly before making their way there.

To extend its reach into the heartland, particularly for seniors, MOH will deploy additional mobile vaccination teams to selected heartland locations in the coming weeks. The deployment location and schedule are found on https://www.vaccine.gov.sg/locations/mvt

From May 21 to June 29, the five joint testing and vaccination centres (JTVCs) will extend their operating hours on Saturdays and eve of Public Holidays from 9am to 7pm, instead of the usual opening hours from 9am to 1pm. Selected polyclinics will continue to offer vaccination. Appointments for these polyclinics can be made via HealthHub.

MOH will be sending out SMSes to individuals who have not taken any Covid-19 vaccination in the past 12 months, to remind them to keep their vaccination up to date. They can go to https://gowhere.gov.sg/vaccine for the nearest vaccination site and the types of vaccines offered at each site.

The public is also urged to exercise personal and social responsibility, including maintaining good personal hygiene, reducing social interactions when feeling unwell, and wearing masks if medically vulnerable, in crowded areas, or when symptomatic.

With the June holiday season approaching, those travelling overseas are reminded to be vigilant and to adopt relevant travel precautions. MOH’s health advisory for travellers is available at www.moh.gov.sg/diseases-updates/travel-advisory

The public is also urged to reserve medical treatment at a hospital’s Emergency Department for serious or life-threatening emergencies, particularly if their symptoms are mild or if they have no medical vulnerabilities. This will preserve hospital capacity for patients who need acute hospital care and allow those with severe illness to receive timely treatment. - The Straits Times/ANN

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