Why S'pore is back to phase 2: Hospital capacity, community exposure to Covid-19 among key considerations

There are around 200,000 people in Singapore aged 60 and above who are yet to be vaccinated.
There are around 200,000 people in Singapore aged 60 and above who are yet to be vaccinated.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - The need to ensure hospital capacity is not compromised, the number of unvaccinated seniors and the extent of community exposure - these were the three key considerations that the authorities had when deciding to go back to phase two (heightened alert), said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Tuesday (July 20).

A total of 81 seniors aged 60 and above were infected in the past week, including 12 who were not vaccinated.

"This is of great concern to us, because almost 30 per cent of the elderly population above 70 years old remain unvaccinated," Mr Ong said at a press conference held by the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19.

He added: "Given the speed of infections, and the rate that the new clusters are growing, we will need to temporarily slow down the spread of the virus to give us time to raise the coverage of our vaccination programme, especially among the older population to protect them against the infection."

At the press conference, Mr Ong elaborated on the three considerations:

1. Hospital capacity must be protected

Cases continue to rise, though less dramatically on Tuesday, and seniors are being infected. "We still have headroom to withstand the pressure," said Mr Ong. "But if the cases keep on rising or keep at today's level and carry on for a couple of weeks, it can come under significant pressure... We are still in an okay position, but don't take that for granted."

2. More seniors need to get vaccinated

Around half of Singapore's population are fully vaccinated, but there are around 200,000 who are aged 60 and above who are yet to be vaccinated. They are in the group at a high risk of falling critically ill once infected.

"Almost every one of them if infected will end up in hospital," said Mr Ong.

If 10 per cent of the 200,000 become infected, there would be some 20,000 who will be hospitalised. And, there is a possibility that 10 per cent to 15 per cent of them may require intensive care unit (ICU) care.

"That's 2,000 to 3,000 who will end up in ICU - it's a huge, huge number," said Mr Ong.

3. Reining in fast-growing community exposure

Unlike the KTV cluster, which has spread among a younger population, the current wave in the various markets and food centres affects a wider spectrum of the population, including seniors.

"The porous nature of our food centres and our hawker centres also increases the risk of cryptic and silent transmission that is hard to detect," said Mr Ong.

Read next: What you need to know about Singapore's Covid-19 rules from July 22