SINGAPORE - The suspension of in-person visits to all hospital wards and residential care homes will be extended a second time until April 3 this year, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Friday (March 18).
The ministry had earlier announced that the suspension would end this Sunday, but has opted to extend the suspension by another two weeks.
This, MOH said, was to "relieve pressure on our hospital staff, and our nursing home staff who are caring for Covid-positive residents on-site".
The statement adds that while the daily number of local Covid-19 cases has decreased gradually over the past week, hospitals continue to face a high volume of patients, and healthcare workers are still under a significant amount of stress.
Last Friday (March 11), there were 15,345 new Covid-19 cases and the seven-day average was 16,245. The number of cases fell under 10,000 on Sunday and Monday, and the seven-day moving average fell to 12,080 as at Thursday (March 17).
In a Facebook post on Friday evening, health minister Ong Ye Kung said that there was a gradual decrease in the number hospitalised due to Covid-19 but that hospitals were still very busy and under stress due to the large number of non-Covid-19 related emergency department admissions.
Mr Ong said: "These are mostly patients with chronic diseases, which have worsened over the last two years as the healthcare system was so preoccupied with fighting Covid-19.
"Many of these patients are admitted to hospitals with Covid-19, and not because of Covid-19."
The ministry had first announced a four-week suspension of visits from Jan 24 this year as a precautionary measure against the Omicron wave.
The suspension was due to end on Feb 20 and was extended by another month until this Sunday.
Hospitals and homes will still have the discretion to allow visits for exceptional cases, said MOH.
These include patients or residents who are critically ill, paediatric patients, birthing or post-partum mothers, or patients who might require additional support from caregivers such as patients who have mental incapacities or family members who are undergoing caregiver training to better care for their loved ones after hospital discharge.
Those who are permitted to visit patients and residents in hospitals and homes on an exceptional basis will need to produce a valid negative antigen rapid test (ART) result obtained within 24 hours of the visit.
The ministry said that alternative methods of communication such as telephone and video calls will continue to be supported during the extended period of suspension.
"We seek the understanding and cooperation of patients/residents, and their family members and loved ones. MOH will review and calibrate these measures as the situation evolves," said the ministry.