Coronavirus: Singapore to ensure sufficient capacity to meet healthcare needs of all

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong added that the country has invested significantly to make sure that it can manage infectious disease outbreaks, highlighting the new National Centre for Infectious Diseases in Novena.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong added that the country has invested significantly to make sure that it can manage infectious disease outbreaks, highlighting the new National Centre for Infectious Diseases in Novena.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Singapore will ensure it has the capacity to meet the healthcare needs of Covid-19 patients as well as those with other ailments, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

He added that the country has invested significantly to make sure that it can manage infectious disease outbreaks, highlighting the new National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) in Novena.

The 330-bed centre was purpose-built with spare capacity, and can be increased to over 500 beds if necessary, Mr Gan said.

However, he added that if more large clusters emerge, it will be difficult to effectively contain them, and healthcare resources will be stretched.

"While we still have sufficient capacity in our healthcare system today, we cannot be complacent and we need to preserve our buffer capacity," he said.

In his ministerial statement, Mr Gan noted that at the start of the outbreak, Singapore took the conservative approach of admitting all Covid-19 cases, regardless of severity, until they tested negative twice over 24 hours. But now, it is clear that about 80 per cent of cases are mild or moderate, with many hospitalised cases experiencing mild symptoms similar to the flu.

"They only require limited medical care, and what we need really are isolation facilities to prevent them from infecting others until they are free of the virus," he said.

This is why the Government has started tapping private hospitals and setting up community care facilities. Concord International Hospital in Adam Road started accepting well and stable Covid-19 patients last Friday, and Mount Elizabeth Hospital saw its first such patient on Monday. The Government has also converted some government quarantine facilities, starting with D'Resort in Pasir Ris, which has a maximum capacity of about 500, for this purpose.

Singapore residents and long-term pass holders transferred to these facilities will continue to get free testing and treatment, except those who travelled overseas despite the travel advisory and contracted the infection while abroad.

They will continue to be quarantined and closely monitored, Mr Gan said, so there is no risk of the public in the community being exposed to these cases while they are at these facilities.

These patients will be discharged only when they have fully recovered and tested negative for the virus twice over a duration of 24 hours. At this point, they no longer have any risk of transmitting the virus to others as they have fully recovered, Mr Gan said, adding that the Government will continue to explore the use of such isolation facilities for Covid-19 patients who are well and in a stable condition.

  • 73 Record number of new cases in Singapore yesterday.

    4,000 Number of contacts Singapore can now trace every day.

    39,000 Number of tests Singapore has done for Covid-19. This translates to 6,800 tests per million people here, compared with around 6,500 in South Korea and 1,000 in Taiwan.

    38,000 Number of people serving stay-home notices in Singapore.

"This way, we can focus our critical hospital resources on the seriously ill, to minimise the number of fatalities," he said. "But rest assured that any Singaporean who requires medical care, whether for Covid-19 or other illnesses, will receive the necessary treatment and care."

Mr Gan also gave an overview of local efforts to develop a vaccine and find effective treatments for the disease. A workgroup comprising members from various hospitals, as well as the Health Sciences Authority, has been set up to work on guidelines for repurposed drugs with antiviral activity to treat infected patients.

The NCID and Tan Tock Seng Hospital, together with the Singapore Blood Bank, have also been working to collect convalescent blood plasma from recovered patients to treat those who are still hospitalised. Doctors here have also been participating in international clinical trials, Mr Gan said.

Meanwhile, Duke-NUS Medical School is working with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations and international partners to develop a clinical trial for a vaccine, with plans to start testing some time this year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2020, with the headline 'S'pore to ensure sufficient capacity to meet healthcare needs of all'. Print Edition | Subscribe