SINGAPORE - The number of Covid-19 cases here has risen faster than expected, but a high vaccination rate has prevented the healthcare system from being overwhelmed, Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak said on Friday (Sept 17).
He also noted that the number of cases requiring oxygen supplementation or intensive care unit (ICU) treatment has not risen at the same pace as community cases, which is "encouraging".
Associate Professor Mak was speaking at a virtual conference with Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, both of whom are on the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 in Singapore.
Mr Ong had said at a press conference on Sept 10 that the number of daily cases could double every 10 days. However, infections have risen faster than that.
On Sept 6, there were 215 new community cases. But on Sept 16, 10 days later, there were 803 such infections - nearly four times as many.
Responding to The Straits Times' question on the spike, Mr Ong said: "It's rising faster than we expected. In fact, we were hoping that such a wave would come much later, when we open up further.
"But Delta (variant) is just very infectious... so it is now doubling every seven days."
He added that new measures have been announced in response to this, including widening the criteria to allow more patients to recover at home.
Mr Ong said: "What is important is not seven or 10 days, but... as it doubles and rises rapidly, what percentage translates into ICU admissions and deaths, and whether we can get our healthcare protocols updated and refreshed in time, moving more people to home recovery, and then we can ride the wave."
Prof Mak added that he has been closely watching to see if the rate of rise in community cases has translated into a similar rate of rise in cases that require oxygen therapy or care in the ICU.
The number of such severe cases has risen slowly, but not at the same pace as community cases, he said, noting that it is a good sign if it continues this way.
"We may actually be alright, and the healthcare resources we have would be well able to cope and cater for those who are more severely affected by Covid-19 infection and who require us to spend more time, more attention caring for them," he said.
But he cautioned that while indications are encouraging at this point, it is still too early to be sure.
The authorities, he said, need to continue monitoring the situation for the next two weeks to see if the trend continues.
Mr Ong added that Singapore's high vaccination coverage has protected the healthcare system from being overwhelmed, even amid the rise in cases.
"There is no doubt that if our population had not come forward and got ourselves vaccinated in big numbers, we would have seen numerous deaths by now and our healthcare system would probably have been overwhelmed already.
"But we have avoided that thus far because of our very high vaccination coverage," he said.
As at Wednesday, 82 per cent of those here had either completed their full vaccination regime or received two doses of the vaccine.
He noted that Friday is the 26th day of the current wave of Covid-19 infections, which began on Aug 23, and said that daily cases may cross the 1,000 mark soon.
"It's not unexpected, it is the typical behaviour of a transmission wave, which typically peaks between four to eight weeks or 30, 40, sometimes 50 days," said Mr Ong.
More than 8,000 cases have been detected since the current infection wave started.
Over 98 per cent of them had either no symptoms or mild symptoms, and 10 patients - which is between 0.1 and 0.2 per cent - needed ICU care, said Mr Ong.
Three have died, which is about 0.04 per cent of the total number of infected, he added.
Prof Mak also shared statistics on mortality and ICU admission rates from May 1 to Thursday.
He noted that no one under the age of 30 had been admitted to the ICU for or died from Covid-19.
Of the unvaccinated cases aged 30 to 39, 0.84 per cent had either died or been admitted to the ICU. These cases had chronic medical conditions which made them more vulnerable to a severe infection, said Prof Mak.
He added that pregnant women are at higher risk of getting a severe infection and requiring ICU care.
The risk for individuals also progressively increases with each decade of life, with the highest risk of mortality seen in those above the age of 80.
Prof Mak also said the data shows vaccination provides a protective benefit by lowering the risk of severe infection and death.
For instance, in seniors aged 70 to 79, vaccination reduced the risk of needing ICU care or dying to a level lower than that of an unvaccinated 30 to 39 year old.
"And when we look at death on its own, vaccination brings that risk of death in seniors above the age of 80 to a level comparable to unvaccinated individuals in the 50- to 59-year age band," said Prof Mak.
He added: "It is therefore extremely important to undergo vaccination.
"There's strong evidence now that vaccination protects you from a severe infection and death, not just from international data but from our own local data."