3 positives and 3 negatives in S'pore's fight against Covid-19: Ong Ye Kung

While Covid-19 cases have stabilised over the past two weeks, there is still no sign of case numbers falling.
While Covid-19 cases have stabilised over the past two weeks, there is still no sign of case numbers falling.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The stabilisation measures that have been in place in Singapore will be extended for another month amid a growing number of Covid-19 cases in the intensive care unit (ICU) and in hospital.

During a virtual press conference on Wednesday (Oct 20), Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said there are three positives and three negatives in Singapore's ongoing fight against the largest wave of Covid-19 cases it has experienced since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here are the "three positives":

1. Covid-19 cases have stabilised

The Covid-19 cases in Singapore have stabilised for the last two weeks, said Mr Ong. While there was a spike to 3,500 Covid-19 community cases on Tuesday, this was due to a usual post-weekend spike in cases.

"Today's numbers are being finalised, but appear to have moderated, (although it's) still slightly above 3,000 community cases," said Mr Ong.

He said the Ministry of Health will monitor the trend over the next few days, to understand where the trajectory of cases is heading.

But the important thing is that cases are no longer doubling every few days, as what Singapore had seen in September and early October, Mr Ong added.

2. More patients with mild or no symptoms

There is now a higher percentage of infected individuals with no symptoms or mild symptoms, said Mr Ong.

About 98 per cent of infected individuals used to have mild or no symptoms. But in the last 28 days, this has increased to 98.6 per cent.

The remaining 1.1 per cent of cases need oxygen supplementation, 0.1 per cent require time in the intensive care unit, and 0.2 per cent have died.

3. Fewer vaccinated seniors infected

Among the seniors aged 60 and above who are vaccinated, the number of people getting infected has been falling.

Mr Ong said that at the peak in early October, there were 1,000 vaccinated seniors getting infected in a day. This has fallen to 279 as at Tuesday.

He said this fall in numbers is due to a combination of factors, including seniors cutting back on their social activities and booster jabs being administered.

Despite the positive signs, Mr Ong also highlighted "three negative" ones:

1. No sign of cases falling

There is no sign of Covid-19 cases falling in Singapore, and it will take time for this to happen, said Mr Ong.

"As more people get boosted, as individuals who are vaccinated catch the virus and experience only mild flu-like symptoms, the antibodies and the immunity in our society will build up over time," he said.

"When that happens, you will see cases falling, and then we can open up social and economic activities without cases rising very rapidly."

2. Healthcare system still under stress 

Singapore's hospitals and healthcare workers remain under pressure, said Mr Ong.

The 2,000 isolation rooms for Covid-19 in Singapore are now 81 per cent filled. "Queues have formed for Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients needing hospital beds in certain hospitals," said Mr Ong.

"We have stood up 207 intensive care unit beds - 71 are occupied by patients who are intubated, that means they need ventilators to help them breathe."

Mr Ong said such patients stay an average of 15 days, but the longest cases can stay up to a month.

He said there are 75 more patients who are not intubated but have been admitted to the ICU because they require close monitoring and treatment by ICU-trained healthcare workers to prevent further deterioration.

"So the workload on healthcare workers and hospitals is therefore very significant," said Mr Ong.

3. Infections among unvaccinated seniors still very high

The number of infections among unvaccinated seniors aged 60 and above continues to be very high.

Mr Ong said this is in contrast to the trend for vaccinated seniors, for which cases are falling.

Unvaccinated seniors account for two-thirds of patients in the ICU and those have died.

Over the past five days, the number of infections for unvaccinated seniors averaged 127 cases a day.

"For them, the disease is not 98.6 per cent mild," he said, referencing the percentage of infected individuals with no symptoms or mild symptoms in the last 28 days.

"For unvaccinated seniors in their 60s, our data shows one in four will require oxygen, ICU care, or will succumb."

The risk of serious illness goes up to one in three for those in their 70s, and one in two for those in their 80s or older.

"Once an unvaccinated senior is on oxygen, more than one in five will go on to need ICU care or die," Mr Ong added.

He said he hopes that the number of cases among unvaccinated seniors will go down, with the vaccinated-differentiated measures implemented recently.

But in the meantime, hospitals are bracing themselves for a sustained heavy patient load.