Next Covid-19 wave could emerge as people's antibodies wane: Ong Ye Kung

Despite high vaccination coverage and prevailing mask-on rules, Singapore needs to shore up its defences by making more hospital beds available. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The next wave of Covid-19 cases in Singapore could emerge as people's antibodies from vaccinations and infections from the last Omicron wave start to wane, leading to a rise in cases in July or August.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Sunday (June 5) that based on what is happening in other parts of the world like the United States and Europe, it will be driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 sub-variants of the virus.

"It's not due to any complex modelling effort, but just the fact that once a wave subsides, four to six months later, we should expect another wave to rise," said Mr Ong on the sidelines of a visit to the upcoming Bukit Canberra integrated sport and community hub.

"Nothing will happen until months later when our antibodies start to wane, then you can see BA.4 and BA.5 emerging by July or August... that's our estimate."

The two sub-variants were first detected in South Africa early this year, and are currently driving a fresh increase in Covid-19 numbers all over the world.

The first three cases of the sub-variants were detected in Singapore in mid-May, but experts say there is no cause for undue alarm.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) earlier said the two variants contain mutations in the spike protein that appear to confer "greater immune escape properties and higher transmissibility" compared to the BA.1 and BA.2 variants, which drove the original Omicron outbreak here.

On Sunday, Mr Ong noted that while there have been some cases here, they have not overtaken the BA.1 or BA.2 strains.

"Most importantly, it's not the case numbers, but how many people fall severely ill," he said.

"I believe that with our strong resilience, we can ride through a period of BA.4 and BA.5."

At the MOH annual workplan seminar on June 2, Mr Ong called on all healthcare setting, from nursing homes to community hospitals, to be Covid-19-ready and prepared to handle patients from this next wave of the virus.

He said despite high vaccination coverage and prevailing mask-on rules, Singapore needs to shore up its defences by making more hospital beds available, in case pressure builds up again.

Efforts are under way, with hospitals rolling out home care services to free up beds.

Community treatment facilities have also been redesigned to take in any patient who does not require the acute care that a hospital provides, regardless of his illness.

Such facilities were first rolled out last year to take in elderly Covid-19 patients who required closer monitoring, but were otherwise in stable medical condition.

Besides freeing up beds, eligible seniors - aged 60 and above - who have not taken their booster shots will also have to be convinced to take their third shot, as they are the most vulnerable group, noted Mr Ong.

The total number of locally transmitted Covid-19 cases fell to 2,256 on Sunday, down from 2,879 the day before, according to MOH’s daily update.

The number of hospitalisations stood at 290, with 29 requiring oxygen supplementation, and eight people currently in the intensive care unit. There was one death on Sunday. 

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