SINGAPORE - Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and its surrounds were uncharacteristically quiet on Tuesday (May 4) following the hospital's decision to stop taking in new patients, and defer medical appointments or move them online, as it hunkers down to tackle its Covid-19 cluster.
At least one waiting area of a specialist outpatient clinic was shut when The Straits Times visited in the late morning, and many vacant seats remained in the foodcourt even during the lunch peak hour.
Another eatery, Toast Box, was also closed until further notice "in the interest of our customers and staff", a notice on the outlet's shutters said.
"It's much quieter than when I last came here three months ago," said one 76-year-old patient, who wanted to be known only as Mr Tay. "At that time, you couldn't even find a place to sit down."
The TTSH cluster, the country's first hospital cluster, has been growing by the day. It now numbers 40 people, including staff, current and former patients and visitors.
It was discovered after a nurse in the hospital's Ward 9D tested positive for Covid-19 last Tuesday - and is the largest of nine active clusters here. An 88-year-old patient in the cluster, who was in Ward 9D, has died.
On Monday, the Health Ministry said other public and private hospitals will help take on the extra load as TTSH focuses its attention on dealing with the Covid-19 cluster and caring for its existing patients. Apart from deferring appointments, the hospital has stopped admitting new patients.
To conserve resources across the healthcare sector, all hospitals have also been asked to defer non-urgent surgical operations and admissions, as well as non-urgent specialist outpatient clinic appointments, until further notice.
Checks at several other hospitals found that some had put additional precautions in place, but they did not seem noticeably busier.
For instance, the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) put up notices reminding staff not to dine at all food and beverage outlets across the campus.
"This is to reduce cross-interaction with visitors and patients, and minimise the risks of Covid-19 transmission," it said.
One woman at SGH, who wanted to be known only as Shan, told The Straits Times that she had originally wanted to reschedule her mother's appointment.
"We wanted to defer the appointment (in the light of the current Covid-19 situation) but felt it was a little last minute to do so," the 36-year-old told ST, adding that she was planning to make the visit quick, and to leave promptly.
Elsewhere, visitors said waiting times were normal and hospitals appeared to be operating as usual.
"Everything's quite fast, quite normal. It's about as busy as it was half a year ago, I would say," said Mr Eugene Tan, a 45-year-old insurance agent who had taken his mother to the National University Hospital for an appointment.
"There are safe distancing measures to ensure people are 1m apart, and now they will ask everyone if they've been to TTSH."
Four screening centres have also been set up to offer free swab tests to people who may have been exposed to individuals in the TTSH cluster. These centres saw long lines on Monday, but were relatively quiet on Tuesday morning.
Correction note: This article has been edited for accuracy.