SINGAPORE - Singapore will extend its Covid-19 restrictions until Nov 21, as the country's healthcare system is at risk of being overwhelmed.
The extended measures - which include capping group sizes for social gatherings and dining in at two - will be reviewed at the two-week mark and adjusted based on the community situation then.
The Health Ministry (MOH) will add more intensive care unit beds if necessary, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung at a press conference on Wednesday (Oct 20).
"The next leap will be to 300 beds, but that will be at the expense of further degradation of normal service and normal medical care."
Nearly 90 per cent of the country's 1,650 isolation beds for Covid-19 patients have been filled, while two-thirds of all intensive care unit (ICU) beds are occupied by Covid-19 cases and non-Covid patients.
"The hospitals are no doubt bracing themselves for a sustained heavy patient load. MOH is doing whatever we can to support and bolster the hospitals," said Mr Ong.
"The workload on healthcare workers and hospitals is therefore very significant," he added.
As at Tuesday night, there were 1,738 Covid-19 patients in hospital - although not all were in isolation rooms - and 71 in intensive care.
He noted that there is no sign that cases are beginning to fall, and that this will take time.
The number of unvaccinated seniors who get infected with Covid-19 remains high, at about 100 a day over the past few days.
But the silver lining is that case numbers have stabilised over the past two weeks or so, with more people who become at worst mildly ill and fewer vaccinated seniors getting infected, Mr Ong said.
"The important thing is it is no longer doubling every few days like what we had seen in late September and early October," said Mr Ong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force handling Covid-19.
In announcing the extension, his co-chairman, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, said "it doesn't mean all the measures will have to remain frozen or static throughout this entire month".
Instead, the Government will review measures in certain settings and consider making changes in these areas first.
Mr Wong cited how the Restaurant Association of Singapore has asked for members of the same household to be allowed to sit together in a table of five.
"For now, we think it's still too risky to make such a move because of the pressure on the healthcare system," he said, adding that he understands the association's stance. "But it is indeed something we are looking into."
A $640 million support package will be rolled out to support businesses affected by the extension of tightened restrictions, Mr Wong said.
This includes 25 per cent of wage support for sectors such as food and beverage, retail, cinemas, museums, tourism and gyms, as well as half a month of rental waiver for eligible building tenants.
Stallholders in hawker centres managed by the National Environment Agency or its appointed operators will receive a half a month of rental waiver as well.
Cabbies and private-hire drivers will get a $10 per vehicle a day in November, and $5 a day under the Covid-19 Driver Relief Fund.
"In many ways, I would say this is probably the most difficult phase in our journey through Covid-19 so far," Mr Wong said.
"This phase will not last indefinitely," he added, urging Singaporeans to understand the need for the measures and support them.
"At some point, the wave will peak. We will also have better immunity against the virus as more people get exposed to it, and we will have more people having boosters in the coming weeks."