Low footfall at polyclinics on first day of extended hours, but long waits at some GPs

MOH announced that six polyclinics will take in patients on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings for the next two weeks, starting on Feb 26. ST PHOTO: THADDEUS ANG

SINGAPORE - Several polyclinics saw low footfall on Saturday afternoon (Feb 26), despite an abrupt extension in their usual operating hours to help meet Singapore's Covid-19 surge.

But a steady stream of patients was seen at nearby general practitioner (GP) clinics, with some people saying they did not know that polyclinics were still open.

The Health Ministry (MOH) announced on Friday evening that six polyclinics will take in patients on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings for the next two weeks, starting on Feb 26.

The six are Bukit Panjang, Eunos, Kallang, Pioneer, Punggol and Woodlands polyclinics.

Polyclinics typically close between 10.30am and 12.30pm on Saturday, and are not open on Sunday. But those with extended operating hours will also operate from 2pm to 4pm on Saturday and 9am to noon on Sunday.

During these extended hours, the polyclinics will only take in patients with acute respiratory symptoms and people who have tested positive for Covid-19. Those who need care for other conditions are advised to see a GP, MOH said.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung had earlier announced that around 170 Public Health Preparedness Clinics had also agreed to extend operating hours for two weeks from Friday to spread out the patient load.

The Straits Times earlier reported that some clinics were hiring people and getting staff to take on additional shifts in order to achieve this.

Raffles Medical, which operates 33 Public Health Preparedness Clinics, said it has seen patient visits increase by more than 15 per cent due to the current surge in Covid-19 cases.

"Most patients have genuine acute respiratory infection symptoms and require medical reassurance to allay undue anxieties," a spokesman said.

Singapore has seen more than 10,000 Covid-19 cases every day since mid-February as the country tackles a spike in infection numbers driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

On Saturday, MOH reported 16,714 locally transmitted cases. A total of 1,553 people were hospitalised with the virus, with 212 needing oxygen and 50 in intensive care.

The weekly infection growth rate was 1.21, meaning that the number of new daily cases is still rising.

When The Straits Times visited three polyclinics on Saturday afternoon, all were quiet, with fewer than 10 patients seen walking in over a one-hour period.

One of them was 18-year-old Rayner Lim, who was getting medication at Bukit Panjang Polyclinic after testing positive for Covid-19.

"The GPs near my place are always crowded so I decided to try my luck with the polyclinic, since it has extended operating hours," he said.

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ST also spoke to patients at several GP clinics, many of whom had flu-like symptoms and said they waited around an hour to see a doctor.

"Polyclinics are already closed, and my friends told me it is not advisable to head to hospitals," said Ms Stacy Ma, who was at Unihealth 24-Hr Clinic in Jurong East with her two children aged two years and three months.

She was hoping to get an antigen rapid test (ART) done for her older son, who had complained of a runny nose for two days.

"I think they are too young to do their ART at a test centre, and I'm sure a GP is more experienced, especially with younger kids," she said.

Several also said they had only mild symptoms but wanted to see a doctor for peace of mind.

This was the case for Mr S. Haresh, a 35-year-old salesman who tested himself for Covid-19 twice but got conflicting results.

"I don't have serious symptoms," he said. "I've had a cough for a few days, but I just want to play safe so I'm here."

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