SINGAPORE - A simpler set of rules for Covid-19 patients and their close contacts will be rolled out from Monday (Oct 11), bringing an end to quarantine orders and leave of absence notices.
The aim is to make healthcare protocols easier to understand and reduce the burden on government resources, including phone operators and quarantine officers.
The new rules override some existing ones, and come with built-in expiration dates, meaning that people will be able to resume daily life after a preset amount of time rather than waiting for official test results.
They also mean that Singapore's Covid-19 strategy will now rely heavily on antigen rapid tests (ARTs), which typically produce results in 15 minutes and can be self-administered.
Results from polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are processed in laboratories, take six hours to up to 12 hours for clinically urgent cases.
Singapore needs to update its healthcare protocols - developed at a time when the country was aiming for zero Covid-19 cases - for several reasons, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Saturday.
First, it has become confusing and frustrating for most people to follow the rules.
The Delta variant, which is more infectious and results in higher viral loads, has also changed the country's risk calculations and enabled it to replace strict quarantine rules with an ART testing regime which is able to pick up most cases.
"A system like that is less watertight than today's system, but it can significantly and substantively manage the risk," he said at a press conference by the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic.
"If we restrict large numbers of people every day over prolonged periods to weed out the last tail risk, it is actually not sustainable."
Under the new protocols, there will only be three sets of rules: people who have symptoms and test positive; those with no symptoms but test positive; and close contacts of a positive case.
Mild symptoms include cough, runny nose, sore throat, body ache, diarrhoea and headache, with or without fever. Severe symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure and loss of speech or movement.
People with symptoms
If a person has Covid-19 symptoms, he should see a doctor who will decide if he needs a test. If he tests positive for Covid-19, he should stay home and wait for instructions from the Ministry of Health (MOH).
He can return to normal life after 10 days if he is fully vaccinated, or 14 days if he is not. Children under 12, who cannot get vaccinated, can also be discharged after 10 days.
Everyone will get an electronic discharge memo at the end of the isolation period.
At present, people can be discharged three days earlier if they take a PCR test showing that they are negative.
This will now be removed for simplicity, the Health Ministry said.
No symptoms but tests positive
A person without symptoms is only required to self-isolate for 72 hours. If he tests negative after this time period, he can resume his daily activities.
However, if he tests positive again, he should test himself every day until he gets a negative result.
He does not need to see a doctor at all, unless he develops symptoms such as a high fever or breathlessness.
People who test positive but show no symptoms can continue working from home.
If working from home is not possible, their employee should treat their absence as paid outpatient sick leave or hospitalisation leave, even though they have no medical certificate.
They should not be asked to take no-pay leave. If they test negative after 72 hours, they can return to work.
Close contacts of Covid-19 case
Quarantine orders and leave of absence notices will no longer be issued to close contacts of a Covid-19 case.
Instead, they will get a health risk warning, and will have to collect ART kits from vending machines and monitor their own health for seven days.
They are free to leave their homes as long as they test negative before going out that day.
A total of 200 vending machines have been set up islandwide, with each machine able to dispense up to six ART kits at one time.
Some 7.5 million ART kits have been set aside for this purpose.
As these health risk warnings will replace quarantine, the quarantine allowance of $100 a day will no longer be given out.
But official quarantine facilities will still be made available for those who have difficulty isolating themselves at home.
People already following previous protocols
Covid-19 patients who are already on the home recovery scheme will have to finish their 10- or 14-day isolation, depending on their vaccination status.
People serving quarantine orders now will no longer need an exit PCR test. They are allowed to go out for the day if they test negative using an ART kit. At the end of day seven of their quarantine, they will be considered as having finished quarantine.