SINGAPORE - A programme to let fully vaccinated Covid-19 patients with mild or no symptoms recover at home will be expanded from next week to become the default care arrangement for more patients.
It will start with those who are younger, and eventually include individuals up to 50 years of age.
Based on current figures, this will account for about half of active Covid-19 cases here.
Parents of infected children aged five and above will also now be encouraged to take their infected children home for recovery, if they are assessed by the hospital to be medically eligible.
These moves by the authorities follow a successful pilot of the scheme since Aug 30 involving 21 patients. Of this group, nine have been discharged while the rest remain clinically well, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Friday (Sept 10).
"Given the encouraging pilot results, we will expand home recovery as the default care management protocol for more fully vaccinated individuals from Sept 15," said the ministry.
The scheme will be progressively extended to those aged 50 and below who have no significant comorbidities or underlying illnesses.
"This is because these individuals are generally well, with no or mild symptoms, and are able to self-care at home," said MOH.
"Once notified of their Covid-19 positive results, these individuals should immediately self-isolate at home."
Comorbidity refers to the presence of two or more diseases or medical conditions in a patient.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said during a press conference by the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 on Friday that the pivot to home recovery is very important, as this will free up hospital beds for those who really need medical attention.
While he had wished there was more time to expand the home recovery pilot before making a bigger move, "we have no time to do that (and) we will implement in the next few days", he added.
This is as the coming weeks will be a critical period, where rising infections might translate into greater demand for hospital and intensive care unit beds, said MOH.
It estimated that Singapore will soon reach more than 1,000 daily cases, given the current trajectory and intensified testing.
"Today, the large majority of infected patients are in hospital more for observation (and) most are discharged uneventfully," Mr Ong noted.
To qualify for the scheme, a fully vaccinated patient must have a suitable home setting where he can be isolated from the rest of the household.
This includes having a room with an attached toilet. Household members must also be fully vaccinated and not belong to any vulnerable groups, such as the elderly or those with weakened immune systems.
These individuals will be equipped with care packs to monitor their symptoms, and be given access to 24/7 telemedicine support for any medical assistance.
On the issue of younger Covid-19 patients, MOH said parents have been making requests to take their infected children home, as they are often well with no symptoms.
"We have been careful and admitting children to hospitals to provide them with dedicated medical care," said MOH.
"However, we will now allow and encourage parents to bring their infected children home, if they are at least five years old and do not have comorbidities or underlying illnesses."
These children will first be assessed by the hospital. If they are deemed to be clinically fit for home recovery, they will be allowed to recover at home.
MOH also said on Friday that it has shortened the length of isolation for fully vaccinated Covid-19 cases since Tuesday, due to evidence that vaccinated individuals recover faster than those who are unvaccinated.
These cases may be discharged as early as seven days into their illness if they have undetectable or very low viral loads, which indicate that they are no longer infectious, said the ministry.
Unvaccinated patients will continue to be discharged from isolation at least 14 days into their illness.
These changes will not apply to dormitory residents for now due to the larger risk of transmission, given the density of their living arrangements, MOH added.