Budget debate: Omicron wave in Singapore has peaked and is subsiding, says Ong Ye Kung

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said there are now good indications that the Omicron transmission wave is starting to subside. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The current Omicron wave in Singapore has peaked and the number of infections is now declining.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Wednesday (March 9): "There are now good indications that the Omicron transmission wave has peaked and is starting to subside.

"With that, I hope healthcare workers will finally have a well-deserved and lasting respite."

On March 8, 1,499 Covid-19 patients were in hospital, of whom 190 needed oxygen, 49 were in intensive care units (ICU) and 15 had died. About 22,000 were infected compared to about 26,000 two weeks earlier, on Feb 22.

Speaking in Parliament during the debate on his ministry's budget, Mr Ong said the ministry has "been doing whatever we can" to help healthcare workers, such as ensuring there is enough Personal Protective Equipment, giving them priority when vaccines arrived, and moving patients, "as many patients as possible" to facilities outside of hospitals.

Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Health, spoke of how GP clinics, as well as hospitals and healthcare workers, are still under pressure caused by the Omicron wave.

Much of this pressure comes from people who remain unvaccinated.

He said: "Three per cent of our adult population who were not fully vaccinated accounted for 25 per cent of ICU cases and deaths."

Against this, people who have received their booster shots are 33 times less likely than those who are not fully vaccinated, to die from Covid-19.

Vaccination-Differentiated Safe Management Measures (VDS) have been put in place to protect this group of people who remain unvaccinated, or have not been fully vaccinated, while allowing the rest of the population to resume more social and economic activities, he said.

This is why it is currently not appropriate to lift existing measures, Dr Janil told NCMP Leong Mun Wai, adding: "Once the Omicron wave has subsided, we will be in a better position to ease our Safe Management Measures further."

On vaccinations related illness raised by Mr Leong, Dr Janil said getting infected was at least 10 times more frequent, and often more severe.

Workers' Party's Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) asked about the lack of antigen rapid test (ART) kits by local manufacturers.

Dr Janil said the key considerations for approval are that they are "sufficiently sensitive in detecting Covid-19 infection, easy to use and affordable". Local manufacturers do not face more stringent criteria than foreign ones, he said.

Responding to Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh on preparations for ICU surges, Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State for Health, said: "We have sufficient equipment and consumables to step up ICU beds significantly, and as of January 2022, more than 800 non-ICU nurses have been trained as a reserve to augment ICU nursing manpower by up to 57 per cent."

While this capacity would have allowed hospitals to stretch ICU capacity temporarily, it was not needed. Dr Koh explained that patients infected with the Omicron variant who need ICU care are but a fraction of those who had been infected by the Delta variant.

But Dr Koh assured that the ministry will continue to make contingency plans, "given how unpredictable the pandemic has been".

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