SINGAPORE - Children aged five to 11 currently have the highest rate of Covid-19 infection here, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Tuesday (Feb 8).
Speaking at the Singapore Health Quality Service Awards 2022, which was held at the Singapore General Hospital Campus, Mr Ong, who was guest of honour, said that while hospitals may not currently be stressed in the same way as during the Delta wave, there is a need to ensure there are sufficient paediatric beds.
This is because the Omicron variant is more likely to infect children than the Delta variant, he added.
The infection rate for children aged five to 11 is currently about 67 per 100,000 population, said Mr Ong.
Those aged 12 to 19 have the next highest infection rate, at about 55 per 100,000.
"This is quite different as compared to during the Delta wave, which mostly infected older adults," the minister said.
He added that the current infection rate among older age groups is lower, but did not give further details.
"With more children and young people getting infected, severe cases are inevitable and we need to ensure that there are sufficient beds for them," he said, adding that public and private hospitals are standing up more such beds, while Covid-19 treatment facilities are also converting more beds for children and their caregivers.
One such facility is Connect@Changi at Expo, where 660 beds are being prepared.
Fortunately, said Mr Ong, hospitalisation of children due to Covid-19 is often precautionary in nature, with short stays of about two to three days.
"Notwithstanding, it is important to get them vaccinated to protect them against the risk of severe illness should they get infected," he added.
Mr Ong emphasised that vaccines and booster shots continue to make a significant difference to the clinical outcomes of infected individuals.
He first noted that currently, 0.3 per cent of patients, whether young or old, infected with the Omicron variant need oxygen supplementation or care in the intensive care unit (ICU).
Then, citing the example of seniors, Mr Ong said that while on average, 1.8 per cent of those aged 60 and up who are infected with Omicron required oxygen supplementation or ICU care, this varies depending on vaccination status.
For seniors who have taken their booster, said Mr Ong, this figure drops to 1 per cent or less. This rises to around 4 per cent for those fully vaccinated with no booster.
But for those who are not fully vaccinated, the rate of such severe illness is about 10 per cent.
A senior above 60 who is not fully vaccinated is 10 times as likely to fall severely sick when infected with Omicron compared with a senior who has taken the booster shot, said Mr Ong.
“And that is why vaccination and boosters, especially among seniors, continue to be our key priority,” he added.