SINGAPORE - With the ongoing Omicron wave of Covid-19 infections likely to hit many more people, businesses should implement continuity plans and adhere strictly to safe management measures (SMMs) to minimise operational disruptions.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) issued this warning to employers on Friday (Jan 21), noting that the number of Omicron cases has started to rise more sharply over the past week.
Infections more than doubled from Tuesday to Wednesday, reaching 1,185, before dipping to 1,001 on Thursday.
For now, the number of severe cases remains low due to Singapore's high vaccination and booster rates - 88 per cent of the total population have received two jabs, while 54 per cent a booster - as well as SMMs including vaccination-differentiated ones.
But with Omicron more transmissible than the earlier Delta variant, Singapore should prepare for further surges in infections in the weeks ahead, said MOH.
The ministry noted that in other countries which had gone through Omicron waves, the high case numbers in the workforce led to disrupted business operations.
"Even if workers who are infected have mild or no symptoms, health protocols will require them to be isolated," it added in a media release. "As the number of infections could potentially be very large, (the) absenteeism rate can go up very sharply."
MOH advised businesses - in particular those providing essential services - to ensure robust business continuity plans such as split-team arrangements, to prepare for the event where employees test positive for Covid-19.
They should also stick closely to SMMs, which currently stipulate that half of the workforce who can work from home may return to the workplace.
Employers must also ensure that employees who are working on-site do not participate in social gatherings and have their meal breaks individually.
Those returning to the workplace should test themselves regularly, MOH added, and if unwell, visit a doctor and avoid entering their workplace.
At a press conference on Friday, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who is also co-chair of the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, said: "This is why personal responsibility is so important. We need everyone to do your part, uphold safe management measures wherever you go and test yourself regularly.
"If you feel unwell, even if it's just mild flu-like symptoms, please do not take any chances. Better to take precautions and work from home," he added.
"If you can't work from home and if you have to go to the office and you say 'I'm feeling quite all right, it's just mild symptoms' then it's best to take an ART (antigen rapid test) to make sure you're not infectious before you go to the office."
Mr Wong said: "In that way, even if one person were to catch the virus, it will not spread to others in the organisation and result in a massive disruption in the entire organisation."
Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak noted that hospitals are also reviewing their service continuity plans and closely monitoring staff numbers.
Countries such as Australia, Britain and the United States have had high healthcare staff absenteeism rates due to them getting infected with Covid-19, leading to a "severe degradation" of healthcare and other essential services, Associate Professor Mak said.
Singapore's hospitals have plans in place to augment staff and will activate these if required, he added.
MOH will be working closely with hospitals to ensure no significant disruption of healthcare services, he said.
Prof Mak also explained that with the healthcare system raising its preparedness posture, hospitals have to be careful in how much elective non-urgent clinical treatments they can provide.
"I seek the understanding of all Singaporeans," he said. "Hospitals may again have to delay the scheduling of such non-urgent treatments at this time, until we are confident that we're over the peak for Omicron cases in the community."