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COVID-19 | Singaporeans strongly encouraged to wear face mask following spike in cases

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A view of a signboard put up to encourage social-distancing, at Marina Bay, in Singapore.

A view of a signboard put up to encourage social-distancing, at Marina Bay, in Singapore.
| Photo Credit: Reuters

As Singapore’s COVID-19 cases continue to rise, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said it “strongly encourages” people to wear a face mask in crowded places even if they are not ill, especially indoors or when visiting vulnerable people.

The Ministry said on December 15 that the estimated number of COVID-19 cases from December 3 to 9 increased to 56,043, a 75% jump compared with 32,035 cases in the previous week.

The average daily COVID-19 hospitalisations rose from 225 to 350. The average daily cases in the intensive care unit rose from four to nine, Channel News Asia reported. The vast majority of cases are infected by the JN.1 variant, a sublineage of BA.2.86.

“Based on the available international and local data, there is currently no clear indication that BA.2.86 or JN.1 are more transmissible or cause more severe disease than other circulating variants,” MOH said in a media release.

Urging the public to exercise personal and social responsibility, the Ministry said people who are unwell with acute respiratory infection symptoms should stay at home and avoid contact with others.

It added that those who are travelling should wear a mask at the airport, purchase travel insurance and avoid crowded areas with poor ventilation.

“We urge the public to seek medical treatment at a hospital’s emergency department only for serious or life-threatening emergencies,” stressed the Ministry.

“This will preserve our hospital capacity for patients who truly need acute hospital care and allow those with severe illness to receive timely treatment,” the channel had MOH as saying.

The Health Ministry said it has been working with public hospitals for contingency planning, such as ensuring adequate manpower and deferring non-urgent elective surgeries to maximise bed capacity for urgent cases in need of acute care.

“In addition, hospitals are tapping on step-down facilities such as Transitional Care Facilities and alternative care models such as Mobile Inpatient Care@Home (MIC@Home) to ensure proper right-siting of patients,” MOH said.

A second COVID-19 treatment facility will open this weekend at Singapore EXPO Hall 10, augmenting capacity at the existing facility at Crawfurd Hospital.

A treatment facility already operates at Crawfurd Hospital in Adam Road. Together, the two facilities can take more than 80 patients, and the new facility can be expanded, if necessary. In addition, hospitals will take steps to meet the rise in demand for beds.

“To preserve our health-care capacity, MOH has been working with public hospitals for contingency planning, including ensuring adequate manpower and deferring of non-urgent electives to maximise bed capacity for urgent cases in need of acute care,” the Ministry said.

In the week that ended December 9, twenty-three COVID-19 patients were admitted to intensive care units (ICUs), up from nine the previous week, and the highest on a weekly basis for the year. A total of 763 patients were hospitalised with the virus.

MOH said travellers should take precautions such as wearing a mask at the airport, buying travel insurance in case they need medical care overseas and avoiding crowded areas with poor ventilation.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on December 13 that the health-care impact of the latest spike in numbers is low, with fewer than 10 cases in ICUs at any one time.

Although more than 560 Covid patients were hospitalised on December 13, it is a fraction of the 1,726 at the peak of the pandemic.

In the week of December 3 to 9, polyclinics saw 3,590 acute upper respiratory infections a day – up from 2,970 a day the previous week. Polyclinics, which treat about 20% of acute illness cases in primary care, serve as a yardstick for the nation.

Doctors are urging people to get both the influenza vaccine and COVID-19 booster shots, especially if they are medically vulnerable or are seniors with underlying medical conditions, for whom such infections can be serious.

The flu vaccine, which protects against the main strains now circulating here, is free for those who have signed up with Healthier SG, the national health-care scheme to promote better health among Singaporeans.

Flu kills about 600 people a year here. In comparison, Covid-19 caused 226 deaths in the first 10 months of 2023, according to a report by The Straits Times.

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