4-week suspension of hospital visits begins, long queue at SGH Covid-19 swab centre for visitors

A "No visitors allowed" sign in Tan Tock Seng Hospital on Sept 24, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Few people were at Tan Tock Seng Hospital on Sept 24, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - At the start of a four-week suspension of hospital visits on Friday (Sept 24), a long queue was seen at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) swab centre for ward visitors, while Tan Tock Seng Hospital's (TTSH) swab booths were less busy earlier in the day.

During this suspension from Friday to Oct 23, ward visitors are allowed only for certain patients such as those who are critically ill and women who have just given birth, on a case-by-case basis.

Visitors have to produce a valid antigen rapid test (ART) or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result, obtained within 24 hours of each visit. The tests have to be done by Health Ministry-approved Covid-19 test providers.

This restriction comes amid a rise in Covid-19 cases and with more cases being detected among hospital staff, patients and visitors.

On Thursday, Singapore recorded 1,504 new Covid-19 cases, the highest since the pandemic began last year. Changi General Hospital was one of the large clusters, with 58 cases among its staff as at Sept 8.

When The Straits Times visited TTSH, signs had been placed at the ward registration area of the hospital, reminding the public that no visitors are allowed.

Ward visitors who had not done an ART before visiting the hospital were asked to buy a kit from the TTSH pharmacy and proceed to the hospital's designated area for antigen rapid testing. A healthcare worker would then assist them with the test at the makeshift area.

At 11.40am, there were three visitors seated inside the cubicles waiting for their ART results.

Over at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), its ART centre was bustling on Friday afternoon, with a long line outside the centre in Bowyer Block.

At 1.15pm, there were 24 visitors in line, with more joining during the lunchtime visiting hours.

Some visitors were shocked and frustrated when they saw the queue outside the centre, but the line moved at a steady pace.

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One of them in the queue was sales manager Clara Lam, who was planning to visit her father at Outram Community Hospital next door. Her father, who has liver cancer, is critically ill.

Ms Lam, who is in her 50s, said: "It would be best for them to speed up and have more staff members at the centre, especially during the 12 to 2pm visiting hours.

"It took me a while to walk to the centre from Outram Community Hospital, and I'm only allowed to visit my dad for 30 minutes."

Another person waiting in line was Ms Rahmah Sulaiman, 48, who had to help her son get discharged after a knee surgery.

Ms Rahmah, a nurse, felt that it would be more convenient for frequent visitors to take their daily ARTs at home instead of at a clinic or in the hospital, where they have to wait.

Visitors at the registration counter at Singapore General Hospital on Sept 24, 2021. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Earlier at TTSH, a few people were seen registering at the visitor service counters - including those whose loved ones had died at the hospital or are on the dangerously ill list.

One of the first visitors to arrive at the hospital at 8am was Ms Iris Lim, 48. She was allowed to visit her father who has been warded in the intensive care unit (ICU) for lupus and bleeding. She told ST that she had taken an ART at a general practitioner clinic in Yishun on Thursday evening prior to her hospital visit.

Patients in critical condition are allowed up to five visitors, with a maximum of two visitors at the patient's bedside at any one time.

An empty ward visitor registration area in Tan Tock Seng Hospital on Sept 24, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Ms Lim, who works in sales, said: "If I had a choice, I wouldn't want to come to a hospital during this period. Why put ourselves at risk? But my father is in the ICU."

She and her siblings will be taking turns to visit him over the next few days.

By 11.30am, tables at the visitor service counters were filled with food items that caregivers had left for patients that they could not visit.

But the hospital has urged the public not to deliver or drop off items for patients unless they are essential.

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Although there were few ward visitors, TTSH was still bustling with outpatients and their caregivers.

Ms Lee Peck Hong, 50, was at the hospital to accompany her father for his routine check-up. Her mother-in-law, 88, has been warded in TTSH, but she and her family would not be able to visit her.

Ms Lee, who runs her own business, said: "I think it is for everyone's good. If anyone carrying the Covid-19 virus goes up to the wards, it would be very dangerous for the elderly who already have health conditions."

Antigen rapid test booths near the entrance of Tan Tock Seng Hospital on Sept 24, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

To keep in touch, Ms Lee's family has been talking to her mother-in-law via WhatsApp video call, with the help of nurses.

In a Facebook post on Thursday, TTSH said: "With visits to our wards suspended during this time, there are other ways to connect with your loved ones. Go digital - call, text or Facetime them. We will do our best to support you."

The hospital added that it can help visitors convey personal messages to their loved ones by printing out these messages and delivering them.

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