SAF roped in as S'pore beefs up home recovery programme amid surge in Covid-19 cases

SAF personnel from a home vaccination team giving an elderly woman her Covid-19 shot.
SAF personnel from a home vaccination team giving an elderly woman her Covid-19 shot.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - The authorities are beefing up their suite of Covid-19 home recovery services, such as telemedicine, the hotline and a buddy system, to support those who require help and advice on what to do.

They are receiving support from the Singapore Armed Forces, which has augmented their resources and capabilities significantly, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Friday (Sept 24), as he sought to address some of the concerns and frustrations that some people have over the home recovery programme.

“This allows us to progressively clear the backlog that has accumulated over the past few days. So we are actively, proactively reaching out to affected individuals, delivering the care packs on request,” he said.

He added that the Ministry of Health (MOH) has joined a Telegram chat group, where members share their home recovery experiences. 

He said this allows the ministry to answer their queries, and at the same time, put out many of the common queries and clearing them through the mass media.
He was speaking at a press conference held by the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19. 

The moves come amid a speedier rise in the number of Covid-19 cases than previously projected.

There has been a number of complaints from those on home recovery. Some were unable to get through to hotlines while others said they waited a long time to hear from the authorities on what they should do. 

Today, over 40 per cent of infected persons are on home recovery.

Mr Ong laid out several steps to help address the issue at the press conference.

Apart from tapping the SAF for help and joining the Telegram chat, MOH will also be expanding the number of hotline operators and beefing up the telemedicine resources, including roping in private sector primary care providers to provide the telemedicine services.

The ministry is also getting support from the People’s Association so that volunteers can also provide community support to the affected families. 

When the home recovery programme is initiated, a home recovery buddy will be tagged to an infected person to help answer any questions. There were about 20 to 30 people on the home recovery hotline team, The Straits Times understands.

Those on home recovery can also access telemedicine, where doctors can address medical-related queries.

Mr Ong said that the Government has introduced measures, such as adding telemedicine to support those on home recovery, "but the high number of cases in the past couple of weeks struck us before we can fully put them into place".

Singapore piloted a home recovery programme for suitable infected Covid-19 persons from Aug 30 as the majority of the population here are vaccinated and have mild symptoms or are asymptomatic when infected.  The Health Ministry said this move would ensure that hospital beds are kept for those who are severely ill.

Since Sept 18, when the home recovery programme kicked in for most infected persons here, new Covid-19 cases have mostly registered at above 1,000 a day. The daily total of 1,504 new cases on Thursday is the highest since the pandemic began, up from the previous high of 1,457 cases on Wednesday. There were just 177 new cases a day on Sept 1.

The authorities expanded its home recovery programme on Sept 18 to those aged between 12 and 69 who are fully vaccinated and do not have severe co-morbidities or illnesses. They will receive an SMS on what they should do at home. They will be given the hotline of a home recovery buddy - 6874-4939 - to answer their questions.

Unlike last year, most of the infected people this year have mild or no symptoms.

However, as daily new cases are reaching 1,600 a day and show no signs of slowing, which means that more vulnerable elderly persons may be infected, new restrictions have to be put in place, the authorities said.

If cases continue to rise at the same speed, Singapore will see 3,200 cases in a week's time, said Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong at the press conference.


Role of health buddies and telemedicine providers

Home recovery is now the default mode of care for persons infected with Covid-19 in Singapore to ease the strain on hospitals and community care facilities.

The Straits Times has more details on two services aimed at supporting those who require help while recovering at home:

Home recovery buddy

One buddy will be assigned to each infected person, and he will be in touch to provide any assistance needed to help the recovery process at home, said Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak.

Telemedicine support

A telemedicine provider will be assigned to each infected person, and is expected to conduct an initial remote assessment through video conferencing to ensure that the infected person is clinically well and understands his responsibilities and obligations.

Those who feel unwell and need medical assistance will be able to reach out to the telemedicine provider, who will proactively contact his or her assigned patients several times in the first week to monitor their clinical progress, said Prof Mak.

"At any time, if the telemedicine providers assess the need for the patients to be further assessed through a physical consultation or needs additional care for the symptoms, the provider will arrange for the person to be conveyed to the hospital for further assessment and treatment," he said.

"But in the event of a medical emergency, such as if they are having very severe symptoms, chest pains, shortness of breath, the sick persons may also call 995 to activate an emergency services ambulance to attend to them quickly."

Persons under home recovery will measure their temperature, pulse rate and the oxygen saturation rate, and record these readings at least once a day on a Web portal, which will then be reviewed by telemedicine providers as needed.

The providers will also help arrange for relevant Covid-19 tests to be administered at home before a person on home recovery can be discharged.

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