SINGAPORE - The majority of Covid-19 patients will now recover at home, rather than in hospitals or designated facilities, as Singapore braces itself for an exponential surge in cases over the coming weeks.
This wave of infections was not unexpected and should be seen as a "rite of passage" for any country hoping to live with the disease, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Friday (Sep 17).
The difference is that other countries encountered such waves early in the pandemic, but Singapore is only doing so after more than 80 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated.
This unique situation makes it critical to keep an eye on the number of people who have become severely ill, Mr Ong said.
"We are on a path of transition to a new normal of living with Covid-19," the minister told reporters during a virtual press conference. "It is a journey that is uncertain and full of twists and turns."
The co-chair of the multi-ministry taskforce handling Covid-19 highlighted three unknowns that loom large in the days ahead.
First, Singapore does not know how long daily case numbers will rise before dipping.
It is also unclear whether the country will run out of intensive care unit capacity, although it is prepared to triple the number of available beds to 300 at short notice.
Lastly, it does not know if hospitals will be overburdened in general, with healthcare staff unable to cope with increased workloads.
With daily case numbers doubling every week, the country is soon likely to see 1,000 new cases in a single day. This means even community care facilities - which currently take in milder cases so that hospitals are not overtaxed - will be full soon, Mr Ong said.
This is why the country will put most Covid-19 patients on home recovery, with the scheme expanded to include those up to 69 years old.
To make testing more convenient, with 100 vending machines have been rolled out at 56 locations for those with health risk warnings to collect self-test kits.
These warnings are sent to people who have been in close proximity to a Covid-19 case for an extended period, according to SafeEntry data, or are identified as one of the infected person's close contacts.
Singapore reported 910 cases on Thursday evening, 803 of which were detected in the community. Another 103 were found in migrant worker dormitories, while the remaining four were imported.
Friday also marked 26 days since the country began grappling with the current wave of infections. More than 8,000 cases have been detected since the wave started, although the vast majority - over 98 per cent - have had no or mild symptoms.
The average number of daily cases has also gone up, from 146 a fortnight ago to 682 cases in the past week.
There is no doubt that numerous deaths would have occurred if people had not gotten vaccinated in large numbers, Mr Ong said, adding that the healthcare system would likely have been overwhelmed by now.
At present, the number of serious cases is not increasing at the same rate as the overall case count. This suggests the healthcare system will be able to cope, said Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak. But he also urged caution, given that it is still early days yet.
"We do need to look at the situation over the next two weeks to better understand whether that trend continues," he said.
As the country navigates this next phase of its battle against Covid-19, Singaporeans should keep up their efforts at preventing the virus from spreading, including observing good personal hygiene and minimising social interactions.
"Even as our infections are still rising rapidly, we can all play our part to determine the trajectory of the infection curve," Mr Ong said.
"We are not the first country to have gone through this baptism of fire, and we will not be the last - but our position is different because we are more than 80 per cent vaccinated."