5 takeaways from Covid-19 press conference on Nov 8

Testing everyone's antibody levels would not be a good way to tell if the population is immune to the disease, said Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

SINGAPORE - On Monday (Nov 8), the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 here held a press conference to announce further developments in Singapore's fight against the virus.

Here are five highlights:

1. Antibody levels

Antibody levels are not the most important marker of immunity to Covid-19, said Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary.

He was asked if the Ministry of Health (MOH) is tracking antibody levels in vaccinated individuals here, whether these levels wane over time, and if so, whether those who have not taken their booster shots will be restricted under vaccination-differentiated measures.

Dr Janil said: "The way vaccination works in your body, your antibody level can drop and you can still mount a very serious immune response."

This means that testing everyone's antibody levels would not be a good way to tell if the population is immune to the disease, he added.

Two other factors are important as well, he said: The amount of time since a person was vaccinated and the intervals between the doses, as well as how old a person is, as this changes how he responds to the vaccine.

2. Clusters in IMH and nursing homes

The Government has been working hard to educate staff and residents in these settings to comply with safe management measures, and will continue to do so. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak was asked why infections at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) as well as various nursing homes are still growing despite a ban on visitors.

"These are difficult settings because many of the residents are not able to adhere completely with all the safe management measures... it's very difficult for them to wear a mask all the time," he said, adding that there is thus a risk of Covid-19 spreading "when these residents interact very closely with each other".

The infections could be the result of new residents entering the homes, after being infected in the community, he said.

Associate Professor Mak added that the Government has been working hard to educate staff and residents in these settings to comply with safe management measures, and will continue to do so. Vaccination rates are also high in these places, which will help slow the spread of the virus, he said.

Many of the new cases reported each day now are patients who were exposed to the first case in the cluster, and had already been quarantined as a result, Prof Mak noted. "So we think that the measures that have been taken by the nursing homes themselves... are starting to (have) some effect in disrupting the transmission."

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that a small proportion - less than seven per cent - of all seniors with Covid-19 were infected in nursing homes. The majority of infections in seniors and young people were picked up in the community, he added.

3. Covid-19 pills

The Government will wait for more details in order to make a proper and objective assessment on whether to procure the pills, said Prof Mak. PHOTO: REUTERS

Prof Mak said Singapore is looking at purchasing various medications for Covid-19 patients, including two oral tablets produced by pharmaceutical companies Pfizer and Merck.

Both companies have said that their experimental antiviral pills lower the chance of hospitalisation or death in patients who are at risk of severe illness.

But while the Government is seriously considering both pills, Prof Mak noted that most of the reports on the pills so far have been from the media.

"Certainly based on the media reports, they sound very promising, if you're talking about a drug that can have 85 to 90 per cent effectiveness in reducing death, or severe infections. That's certainly an important weapon... when it comes to trying to fight Covid-19," he said.

"We're actually looking for the actual articles (and) publications, for studies that have been done using these new medications, as well as data that the companies will submit to regulators so that we can more objectively assess the benefit of these medications."

The Government, he said, will wait for more details in order to make a proper and objective assessment on whether to procure the pills.

4. Targeted contact tracing

Contact tracing is now much more targeted than it used to be. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

The Government has not stopped conducting contact tracing and epidemiological investigations despite the high daily case numbers, Prof Mak said.

However, contact tracing is now much more targeted than it used to be.

"We focus on where we have concerns about vulnerable people being exposed," he said. This includes places such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools.

Some contact tracing still takes place in relation to other clusters, but this responsibility is now shared with various sector leads, he added. These sector leads also carry out actions to stop the spread of the virus, including closing premises for cleaning.

"So we're now more targeted in our contact tracing. It's not that we've given up on doing this, but we do it in a much more focused manner in order to make sure that the vulnerable people are continuing to be protected," said Prof Mak.

5. Home care for seniors

Singapore is seeing more seniors with advanced medical conditions who want to undergo palliative care and spend their last moments at home in the presence of loved ones. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

MOH will revisit and, if necessary, improve its protocols on Covid-19 cases who die at home, said Mr Ong.

He was commenting on a recent article in The Straits Times about a 99-year-old terminally ill man who tested positive shortly before dying at home.

The man's daughter said the family faced a lot of difficulties in trying to get an undertaker to collect the body, because of existing Covid-19 protocols.

The Association of Funeral Directors said MOH's rules do not allow undertakers to handle the bodies of Covid-19 patients in residential premises.

Mr Ong said: "We will take the feedback and revisit the regulations. If they are unclear, we will improve them.

"We will also work closely with NEA (National Environment Agency) and some of the funeral directors to ensure that whatever revised regulations we have will allow them to safely handle Covid-19-positive cases who pass away at home."

Mr Ong added that Singapore is also seeing more seniors with advanced medical conditions who want to undergo palliative care and spend their last moments at home in the presence of loved ones.

"We respect these decisions, we think it reflects a positive shift in societal attitudes, and MOH will support this shift."

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