SINGAPORE - Singapore will start a pilot programme for mildly ill Covid-19 patients to recover at home from Aug 30, as part of its gradual shift towards living with the disease.
People will qualify for the home isolation scheme if they have mild or no symptoms and can be isolated from the rest of the household, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Thursday (Aug 19).
However, such patients and their household members must meet certain stringent conditions.
For instance, everyone in the home must be fully vaccinated and must not belong to any vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women, the elderly or the immunocompromised. This is in line with the World Health Organisation's recommendations and the best practices of other developed countries, MOH said.
Speaking at a virtual press conference, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung described the pilot as a "crucial step" in Singapore's journey towards living with Covid-19 as an endemic disease.
He noted that Singapore currently has two layers of Covid-19 recovery care - hospitals, which care for 35 per cent of community cases, and community care facilities, which account for the rest.
At the same time, over 98 per cent of infected people who are fully vaccinated show mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, making it sensible to add a third layer allowing people to recover at home, he said.
"It is not a new concept. Countries like Australia, Canada, the UK... have done so and quite successfully," Mr Ong added. "We have been a lot more cautious, but now that the great majority of our people are fully vaccinated, we should also take a step in this direction."
The announcement comes as the number of daily Covid-19 cases continues to decline steadily, after the authorities imposed tighter restrictions on social interactions last month.
This means Singapore can continue with its planned reopening that will see more people returning to work or gathering at events, malls and attractions.
There is no change to the cap on dining in at food and beverage outlets - the limit remains at five for those who are fully vaccinated. Similarly, the cap of two people - regardless of vaccination status - for dining at hawker centres and coffee shops remains.
As at Tuesday, the country saw an average of 63 new cases a day in the past week, compared with nearly double that two weeks before.
"The number of cases that were isolated before detection has remained stable at around half of the total cases detected, while unlinked cases similarly remained stable at around a quarter of the total cases," the ministry said.
Giving more details on the home isolation pilot, MOH said all household members will be placed on home quarantine for as long as the patient is isolated.
They will be tracked through electronic monitoring and surveillance checks, and have to take daily antigen rapid tests in order to detect potential infection.
Patients will spend the first few days of their illness in a medical facility, moving to home isolation only after their viral loads have fallen.
They will have to take a polymerase chain reaction test on the ninth day of their illness, as well as an exit test to determine if they can be discharged from isolation.
Should the person show high viral loads - suggesting that they remain infectious - they will have to continue isolating themselves at home for another seven days.
"We will closely monitor the pilot's outcomes, and study if more patients may benefit from this mode of recovery in a safe manner," said MOH.
Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak said the ministry is adopting a "risk-calibrated and phased" approach for the scheme.
It will set aside enough resources to monitor and support such patients, as well as ensure that they follow the rules and stay home during their home isolation. This includes ensuring they have access to telemedicine services should they require medical assistance.
If necessary, these patients will be taken back to the hospital for a full evaluation and further treatment.