Ward visitors at hospitals thin out as ban kicks in to stem Covid-19 transmission

Visits to hospital wards are not allowed from Aug 5 to 18 to stem further Covid-19 transmission.
Visits to hospital wards are not allowed from Aug 5 to 18 to stem further Covid-19 transmission.ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG
Visits to hospital wards are not allowed from Aug 5 to 18 to stem further Covid-19 transmission.
Visits to hospital wards are not allowed from Aug 5 to 18 to stem further Covid-19 transmission.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Crowds were seen at several local hospitals on Thursday (Aug 5), the first day of the barring of visits to hospital wards islandwide, but most were there for outpatient treatment.

The Straits Times observed only a few people at the ward registration counters of Singapore General Hospital, Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH).

Visits to hospital wards are not allowed from Thursday to Aug 18 to stem further Covid-19 transmission after clusters involving staff and patients emerged at Changi General Hospital (CGH) and Yishun Community Hospital (YCH).

SGH has a safe management council that conducts regular checks to ensure safe management measures within the campus are followed.

Earlier this week, a fully vaccinated staff member tested positive for Covid-19 without having had any  interaction with patients when last at work, said Associate Professor Ruban Poopalalingam, the chairman of SGH’s medical board.

He added that the staff member  was quarantined after testing  positive, and that they are a household contact of another infected person.

“To mitigate the risk of spread, contact tracing was promptly done to update those who had been in close contact (with the staff member) so that necessary actions can be taken. The relevant areas were also thoroughly disinfected,” added Prof Poopalalingam.

A spokesman for TTSH said on Thursday that it has communicated the change in visiting policy to all its patients and their families.

"They are generally understanding of the need. All visitors have to be registered before they can enter our wards. We will reiterate the importance of this change in policy at our counters and seek our visitors' cooperation to keep our patients and staff safe," said the spokesman.

A spokesman for the National University Health System (NUHS) said its hospitals have tightened precautionary measures for all patients, visitors, caregivers and accompanying persons.

Hospitals under NUHS include the National University Hospital and Alexandra Hospital.

Caregivers and those accompanying them are required to keep their visits short, and are not allowed to eat or drink in the wards, among other rules.

“Our staff are available to support patients and caregivers who may need advice or assistance. We also assist patients and their families with telecommunication alternatives, such as video calls instead of in-person visits, where appropriate,” added the NUHS spokesman.

Four patient groups are exempted from this rule on a case-by-case basis. They include patients who are very ill, patients who are babies or children, as well as mothers who are due to give birth or have delivered.

Patients requiring additional care support from caregivers will also be exempted, but only one visitor is allowed each day for a duration of no more than 30 minutes at the patient's bedside. These visitors include those helping patients who have mental incapacities and family members who are undergoing caregiver training.

Visitors who need to stay beyond 30 minutes for reasons such as caregiver training will be allowed only after they have tested negative on a supervised antigen rapid test. They should take the test a maximum of 24 hours before their visit, and the result of this test is valid for 24 hours.

For patients who are very ill, up to five pre-designated visitors may be registered, with a maximum of two visitors at the patient's bedside at any one time for a visit duration of no more than 30 minutes.

On Thursday, ST observed that some hospitals such as KKH had put up signs to remind ward visitors of the new rules. At KKH, at least one staff member was stationed at every entry point to the wards to inform visitors that they needed to register to enter gantries that led to the lifts.

A 55-year-old retired engineer, who wanted to be known as Jack, was at TTSH on Thursday with his wife and son to visit his 88-year-old father, who has been hospitalised since mid-July after suffering complications from an operation.

He told ST that before the recent measures, two people could visit a normal ward each day, with only one person allowed in the ward at any point in time for 30 minutes.

But since July 22, one person a day could visit patients in normal wards before measures enacted on Wednesday barred all visits to normal wards. His father, however, was exempted from these restrictions due to serious illness when heightened alert measures kicked in.

Visitors at Tan Tock Seng Hospital on Aug 5, 2021. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

"Of course, from a safety point of view, it’s good, but sometimes you need to exercise a bit of flexibility... For those who are severely or terminally ill, this might be the last time you see them," said Jack.

He added that it was frustrating that there was a limit of five designated visitors, which meant that a patient could not see a visitor not on the list.

“Four of his grandchildren will not be able to see him off due to the restriction,” he said.

A few visitors at SGH were unsure if their hospitalised  relatives  were exempted from the new visitation rules.

Visitors at Singapore General Hospital on Aug 5, 2021. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

A visitor who wanted to be known as Ms Umi, 29, accompanied her mother – a registered caregiver – to the hospital, as she was not sure if her mother could stay beyond 30 minutes with her father, who has been hospitalised for the past two days due to heart disease and kidney failure.

Her mother has been able to stay with her husband at the hospital for a few hours over the past couple of days, as long as she did her ART test every morning.

Ms Umi said: “ I came with my mum today to get some clarifications on the new policy.”

The Ministry of Health had announced a cluster of four cases at YCH on Sunday. The infections broke out in a ward with 32 patients who are mostly above 60 years old.

A new cluster of three cases was reported at CGH on Tuesday - three days after the ministry closed another cluster there that had 20 cases.

The recent wave of infections follows Singapore's first hospital cluster at TTSH in April, which led to the hospital halting admissions for two weeks as the number of cases grew to 46.