All 1,100 inpatients and 4,500 staff working in the wards at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) will be swabbed by this weekend as part of a mass screening exercise to ring-fence a growing Covid-19 cluster that has affected its manpower situation and hospital operations, its chief executive Eugene Soh said yesterday.
The cluster emerged following the diagnosis on Tuesday of a nurse who works in a general ward.
Since then, 13 Covid-19 cases have been identified as part of the cluster. They include five staff and eight patients, including five aged between 71 and 94.
TTSH has so far locked down four wards, and all close contacts of the identified cases, including patients, visitors and staff who have been in the affected wards, have also been placed under quarantine.
No new patients will be admitted to these wards, which are being taken care of by a dedicated group of staff, said Dr Soh. In addition, no visitors are allowed in any ward until further notice.
Dr Soh, who joined a virtual press conference by the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 yesterday, said the hospital may pick up further cases, which they will then quickly isolate, in addition to locking down the affected ward.
The mass screening at TTSH started on Thursday. Dr Soh said that all inpatients would have been swabbed by last night and all 4,500 staff, including doctors, nurses, allied health professionals and housekeepers, working in the wards will be swabbed by "this weekend".
At least 61 patients, including those with confirmed infections, have been transferred so far to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases for treatment.
The hospital has also placed 76 staff who had been in close contact with them on leave of absence as they await quarantine orders. As contact tracing continues, this list is expected to grow.
"I do anticipate a couple of hundreds would possibly be put on leave of absence," said Dr Soh.
As such a huge loss of manpower will affect the hospital's ability to handle the usual patient load, less urgent appointments will be rescheduled, so that staff can be redeployed to essential areas that require operations, said Dr Soh.
Other hospitals are also affected, as non-life threatening ambulance cases are being diverted from TTSH.
However, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, the Health Ministry's director of medical services, said such diversions had started recently because of the high bed occupancy rate at TTSH.
He noted that Singapore's overall bed capacity is still sufficient to meet current needs.
"We also have our stock of Covid dedicated beds in all our hospitals... They remain in readiness, but at this time, we have not activated any of these other reserve measures just yet," said Prof Mak.
Dr Soh also said TTSH has stepped up surveillance and measures such as reinforcing infection control and hand hygiene.
And despite forbidding any visitors, the hospital will make exceptions for patients who are critically ill.
"We know that such measures have caused inconvenience to patients and their families, and we understand your anxiety to want to see your loved ones who are warded," said Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong.
"TTSH will allow, on a case-by-case basis, limited visitors for patients who are critically ill. For the rest, we seek your patience and understanding."
At the press conference yesterday, Mr Gan said that MOH is particularly concerned about the cluster at TTSH, and will continue to aggressively test and draw a wide ring around the cases, so as to minimise the risk of further spread.
"We will carry out surveillance testing for patients who had been discharged from TTSH as well as those who had visited TTSH on or after April 18," he said.
MOH will also test people who had been to or who work at the public places visited by individuals in the cluster during their infectious period.
"Our testing is ongoing and we expect to detect more cases in the coming days," said Mr Gan.
"The next few days will be critical. If we find many more cases that suggest widespread transmission, we will have to introduce more measures to break the chains of transmission."
People who have been vaccinated may still be infected but they may be asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, like the nurse who was diagnosed on Tuesday, but it could be very different for patients, especially if they are elderly and frail.
Prof Mak said patients in hospital would already be quite ill. Some of the cases in the TTSH cluster are in their 90s, with concurrent multiple medical conditions, he said. Their families have already been told to be prepared for any changes.
"We are mentally prepared that some of these patients may not do so well, given how old they are, how frail they are, and the medical conditions that they have, but we continue to hope for the best and we are committed to provide as best as we can for all the patients who are in the hospital," he said.
Yesterday, Mr Gan said the recent cases are a reminder the virus is alive and circulating, and people must not let down their guard.