SINGAPORE — Singapore will begin ramping up preparations to handle 5,000 new COVID-19 cases daily, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung announced on Friday (24 September), amid an ongoing coronavirus outbreak spreading much faster than anticipated.
During a virtual media conference hosted by the multi-ministerial COVID-19 task force, his remarks come on the heels of two consecutive days of record-breaking new cases in Singapore: 1,457 on Wednesday and 1,504 on Thursday.
Singapore is expected to reach 3,200 new cases in eight days as it enters the “fifth doubling cycle,” according to the task force’s co-chair.
Whether it gallops there or takes its time getting there – this is something we must observe. What we do know is that no transmission wave lasts indefinitely,” he explained, adding that despite stringent safety measures, “the Delta variant does not follow our script.
The exponential growth in infection rates over a relatively short period has put Singapore’s healthcare system and workers under tremendous strain and stress, Ong noted.
“(Delta) spread through the community and is accelerating the growth of daily cases much faster than we anticipated before our ramped-up plans are fully implemented, and our support systems are fully operational,” he added.
Accelerated implementation to alleviate strain on the stressed healthcare system
To deal with the increase in cases, authorities will expedite the implementation of existing plans, Ong stated.
Currently, over 40% of daily COVID-19 cases – and this percentage is increasing – are on a home recovery program. As of Thursday, 23 patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) were in critical condition, while 163 required oxygen supplementation.
The plans include expanding and allocating additional resources to services for those undergoing home recovery, including telemedicine, a buddy system, and a hotline. The home recovery buddy team consists of between 20 and 30 individuals.
Additionally, the number of COVID-19 hospital beds will be increased to 1,600 from 1,000 previously planned. However, Ong stated that this will occur “at the expense of some degradation of normal services.”
By the end of the week, community care facility beds will have increased to 4,600, up from approximately 3,500 currently.
Additionally, authorities have established a new category of facilities known as community treatment facilities (CTFs), better equipped to monitor and manage COVID-19 patients with chronic illnesses.
This week, approximately 300 CTF beds were commissioned, with another 700 at Changi Expo and another 200 at Sengkang Hospital to open in the coming weeks.
To assist in operating the CTFs, the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and private sector hospitals will be enlisted. Additionally, the SAF will help clear the backlog of requests made by those undergoing home recovery, such as care pack delivery.
With these plans in place, Singapore’s healthcare system will be able to handle 2,500 to 3,000 new COVID-19 infections daily, Ong said, but it will be “quite stretched.” “At the same time, we need to dig very deep and prepare for 5,000 cases.”
Not reverting to low daily cases
Finance Minister and co-chair Lawrence Wong expressed gratitude to Singaporeans for their efforts in reducing social activities to prevent further COVID-19 transmission. Still, they cautioned that the number of cases in the country would continue to rise.
“Unfortunately, the virus continues to spread despite our concerted efforts,” he said.
Wong noted that the contagious Delta variant’s natural reproduction rate – if left unchecked and without any safety management measures in place – is “easily around five or six.
“We were able to reduce the reproduction rate to approximately 1.5. That is already a substantial reduction, “‘He stated.
Nonetheless, Wong stressed, cases continue to double every week or so. “That is the reality – and bringing it even lower will require a great deal more effort.”
With approximately 1,600 new cases per day, Singapore currently sees about 26 infections per 100,000 population per day.
While the rate is lower than in the United Kingdom and the United States, where approximately 40 to 50 cases per 100,000 population per day are reported, it is “higher than in many other European countries that have reached equilibrium,” such as Germany, France, Italy, and Spain, where approximately seven to ten cases are reported, Ong said.
This could serve as a point of reference for us. If we proceed cautiously on this transition journey, we will continue to see an increase in cases. It will eventually turn before descending and stabilizing at a new equilibrium level, “he continued.
However, according to Wong, this new level is likely to be significantly higher than what Singaporeans are accustomed to.
“In other words, we are no longer returning to a scenario of few daily cases. This will not be possible because we are moving forward with our efforts to learn to live with the virus and our plans to reopen. “He added later that authorities have no immediate plans to impose a lockdown or Heightened Alert restrictions on Singapore.