Coronavirus Singapore

Thinner crowds at hospitals as visitor ban kicks in

Hospitals put up signs on the new rules to curb spread of Covid-19

At Singapore General Hospital yesterday, The Straits Times observed that there were only a few people at the ward registration counters. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
At Singapore General Hospital yesterday, The Straits Times observed that there were only a few people at the ward registration counters. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

Crowds were seen at several local hospitals yesterday, the first day of the barring of visits to hospital wards islandwide, but most of the people were there for outpatient treatment.

The Straits Times saw only a few individuals at the ward registration counters of Singapore General Hospital (SGH), Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH).

Visits to wards are not allowed until Aug 18 to stem further Covid-19 transmission after clusters involving staff and patients emerged at Changi General Hospital (CGH) and Yishun Community Hospital (YCH).

SGH has a safe management council that conducts regular checks to ensure safe management measures within the campus are followed.

Earlier this week, a fully vaccinated staff member tested positive for Covid-19 but did not have any interaction with patients when last at work, said Associate Professor Ruban Poopalalingam, chairman of SGH's medical board.

He said that the staff member was a household contact of an infected person. "To mitigate the risk of spread, contact tracing was promptly done to update those who had been in close contact so that necessary actions can be taken. The relevant areas were also thoroughly disinfected."

TTSH said yesterday that it has communicated the change in visiting policy to all its patients and their families. "We will reiterate the importance of this change in policy at our counters and seek our visitors' cooperation to keep our patients and staff safe," said a spokesman for the hospital.

The National University Health System (NUHS) said its hospitals, which include the National University Hospital and Alexandra Hospital, have tightened measures for all patients, visitors, caregivers and accompanying individuals.

It said that caregivers and those accompanying them are required to keep their visits short, and are not allowed to eat or drink in the wards, among other rules.

Four patient groups are exempted on a case-by-case basis from the rules barring visitors. They include patients who are very ill, babies or children, and mothers due to give birth or who have given birth.

Patients who require additional support from caregivers will also be exempted, but only one visitor is allowed each day for no more than 30 minutes at the patient's bedside.

These visitors include those helping patients who have mental incapacities and family members undergoing caregiver training.

Visitors who need to stay longer for reasons such as caregiver training can do so only after they have tested negative on a supervised antigen rapid test (ART). They should take the test no more than 24 hours before their visit; the test result is valid for 24 hours.

For patients who are very ill, up to five pre-designated visitors may be registered, with a maximum of two visitors at the patient's bedside at any one time for a visit duration of no more than 30 minutes.

Yesterday, ST observed that some hospitals had put up signs to remind ward visitors of the new restrictions.

At KKH, at least one staff member was stationed at every entry point to the wards to inform visitors that they needed to register to enter gantries that led to the lifts.

A 55-year-old retired engineer who wanted to be known only as Jack was at TTSH with his wife and son to visit his 88-year-old father, who has been hospitalised since the middle of last month after complications from an operation.

His father is seriously ill.

Jack said of the new restrictions: "Of course, from a safety point of view, it is good, but sometimes you need to exercise a bit of flexibility... For those who are severely or terminally ill, this might be the last time you see them."

A few visitors at SGH were unsure if their hospitalised relatives were exempted from the new restrictions.

A visitor who wanted to be known as Ms Umi, 29, accompanied her mother - a registered caregiver - to the hospital, as she was not sure if her mother could stay beyond 30 minutes with her father.

He has been hospitalised for the past two days because of heart disease and kidney failure. Ms Umi's mother was able to stay with him at the hospital for a few hours over the past couple of days, as long as she did her ART test each morning.

Ms Umi said: "I came with my mum today to get some clarifications on the new policy."

The Ministry of Health had announced a cluster of four cases at YCH on Sunday. A new cluster of three cases was reported at CGH on Tuesday - three days after the ministry closed another cluster there that had 20 cases.

This comes after Singapore's first hospital cluster at TTSH in April that led to it halting admissions for two weeks as the number of cases linked to it grew to 46.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 06, 2021, with the headline 'Thinner crowds at hospitals as visitor ban kicks in'. Subscribe