COVID-19 SPECIAL

Coronavirus: At least 8 cases of virus among staff at public healthcare institutions

Above: A screening area at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases. An Ng Teng Fong General Hospital doctor who became infected with Covid-19 recently is among those hospitalised at NCID.
Above: A screening area at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases. An Ng Teng Fong General Hospital doctor who became infected with Covid-19 recently is among those hospitalised at NCID. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
Staff in protective gear at Singapore General Hospital. Cases of infected healthcare workers here include a clinical research coordinator and a nurse at SGH. Above: A screening area at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases. An Ng Teng Fong Gene
Staff in protective gear at Singapore General Hospital. Cases of infected healthcare workers here include a clinical research coordinator and a nurse at SGH. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

A 26-year-old doctor at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital was infected with Covid-19 recently but she was not involved in the care of patients with the disease.

She is among a small but growing pool of healthcare workers who have been infected with Covid-19, and one of three cases announced on Wednesday.

The other two are a 29-year-old clinical research coordinator at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and a 37-year-old nurse at SGH who had recently travelled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

There are now at least eight cases among people who work in public healthcare institutions.

Ng Teng Fong General Hospital's chief executive Foo Hee Jug posted on Facebook yesterday that the doctor complied with PPE (personal protective equipment) guidelines and infection control measures in the course of her clinical duties.

"She also did not attend to any confirmed Covid-19 patients in the last 14 days," he wrote.

The doctor, who is Case 978, is currently hospitalised in an isolation room at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID).

Mr Foo said that contact tracing is under way.

Yesterday, SGH also posted on its Facebook page that the clinical research coordinator, who is Case 951, sought medical attention at SGH's emergency department on Monday, with fever and respiratory symptoms. She has no recent travel history and no contact with patients in the course of her work.

The nurse, who is Case 952, sought medical attention at SGH's staff clinic on Tuesday, with mild symptoms. She did not have contact with any Covid-19 patients.

She had recently returned from UAE, and had worn a mask at work.

The two SGH cases tested positive on Tuesday, and did not interact with each other. Contact tracing has been done.

  • Healthcare workers

  • • This group is particularly vulnerable due to high exposure and possible contact with patients. Healthcare workers are also more likely to continue working even when feeling unwell due to the high demand for healthcare services, a sense of duty and possibly mild symptoms, said infectious disease expert Leong Hoe Nam.

    • At least eight people working in healthcare institutions have been infected.

    • These include medical workers, a psychologist, an associate consultant at the National Skin Centre and a nurse.

    • On Wednesday, three new cases were reported in the healthcare sector: a clinical research coordinator and a nurse at Singapore General Hospital, and a doctor at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.

    • No new cases involving healthcare workers were announced yesterday.

    Clara Chong

At the start of the week, a porter at NCID - a 20-year-old Malaysian who had travelled to Malaysia from March 16 to 17 - was confirmed to have the coronavirus disease. He had carried out his portering duties in full PPE, according to a Facebook post by Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

Relatively few healthcare workers have been affected in Singapore.

"At work, they are masked up, so the risk of passing the disease to vulnerable patients is low," said Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, programme leader of the infectious diseases programme at Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

"Of course, healthcare workers can pass it to other healthcare workers, which then affects healthcare, but hospitals take enough precautions to prevent this," he said.

Joyce Teo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2020, with the headline 'At least 8 cases of virus among staff at public healthcare institutions'. Print Edition | Subscribe