Coronavirus Singapore

Tightened curbs will buy time for seniors to be jabbed: Ong

Hospital capacity, community exposure among considerations in making decision

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited the antigen rapid test kit collection points in Teck Ghee and Cheng San yesterday. He wrote in a Facebook post that he met some residents who were eager to collect their test kits as they had visited the markets
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited the antigen rapid test kit collection points in Teck Ghee and Cheng San yesterday. He wrote in a Facebook post that he met some residents who were eager to collect their test kits as they had visited the markets and food centres which had cases. PHOTO: LEE HSIEN LOONG/FACEBOOK

A return to phase two (heightened alert) will help buy time for more seniors to get vaccinated as community cases rise speedily. If they were to get infected now, some 2,000 to 3,000 of them could end up in the intensive care unit, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday.

Making sure that hospital capacity is not compromised as well as the possibility of more seniors becoming exposed to Covid-19 during visits to markets and food centres were the other key considerations when making the decision to take a step back, he said at a press conference held by the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19.

This phase two (heightened alert) will last from tomorrow to Aug 18.

Right now, around half of Singapore's population are fully vaccinated, but there are about 200,000 people aged 60 and above who have yet to be vaccinated.

They are in the group who have a high likelihood of falling critically ill once infected.

"Nearly every one of them, if infected, will end up in hospital, because they are at high risk. And 10 to 15 per cent of them, based on our experience, will end up in the ICU (intensive care unit)," said Mr Ong.

"So if 10 per cent of 200,000 people get infected, 20,000 will end up in hospital and amongst them, 2,000 to 3,000 will end up in the ICU."

He said that hospital capacity must be protected, or many patients will be affected.

Mr Ong added: "We can still ramp up our capacity, and we still have the headroom to withstand the pressure.

"But if the cases keep rising or keep at today's level for the next couple of weeks, it will come under significant pressure."

Singapore saw a record high of 182 new locally transmitted community cases yesterday. This includes 142 linked to the Jurong Fishery Port cluster, which has spread to markets and food centres and now has 321 cases.

In contrast, the KTV cluster, which caught Singapore by surprise last week, is growing at a slower pace now and has 207 cases.

Unlike the KTV cluster, which has spread among a younger population, the current wave in the various markets and food centres affects a wider spectrum of the population, including seniors, said Mr Ong.

"The porous nature of our food centres and our hawker centres also increases the risk of cryptic and silent transmission that is hard to detect," he said.

Dining in is prohibited under phase two (heightened alert).

In the past week, a total of 81 seniors aged 60 and above have been infected with Covid-19, including 12 who were not vaccinated and thus at risk of becoming gravely ill.

"This is of great concern to us, because almost 30 per cent of the elderly population above 70 years old remain unvaccinated," Mr Ong said.

He added: "Given the speed of infections, and the rate that the new clusters are growing, we will need to temporarily slow down the spread of the virus to give us time to raise the coverage of our vaccination programme, especially among the older population to protect them against the infection."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2021, with the headline 'Tightened curbs will buy time for seniors to be jabbed: Ong'. Subscribe