Government monitoring hospital capacity closely as Covid-19 cases remain high: Ong Ye Kung

Two factors are crucial in deciding if Singapore has reached a critical stage - the number of serious cases and hospital capacity. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Tuesday (Sept 21) that the Government is monitoring hospital capacity closely and may have to impose more restrictions if the Covid-19 situation worsens.

Singapore already has a suite of measures in place, and to go further would be a "last resort", he added in Mandarin in an interview with Lianhe Zaobao.

But the Delta variant has continued to spread very quickly despite the measures currently in place, and daily cases have exceeded earlier projections, he noted.

There were 1,178 new Covid-19 cases reported on Tuesday, the third time in four days the number has exceeded 1,000.

Mr Ong said: "We had planned to have a preparatory period, during which we can gradually open up while handling perhaps 100 to 200 cases a day. But Delta did not wait for us to be ready and attacked us first."

"The fight against Delta is really like a war... and it can spring surprises which you never expected, so you have to be able to adapt and change strategies quickly."

He added that two factors are crucial in deciding if Singapore has reached a critical stage - the number of serious cases and hospital capacity.

And the Government has been keeping a close watch on both indicators to ensure that intensive care units and the healthcare system in general are not overwhelmed.

"If this does not work, then we will have to explain to people frankly about the need for tighter restrictions," said Mr Ong, one of three co-chairmen of the multi-ministry task force overseeing the national response to Covid-19.

Asked about his assessment of the current situation, Mr Ong said that as of last week, things were still under control. But he added that the situation changes daily.

He also noted that a new balance had to be struck with the virus, and people would have to learn how to co-exist with Covid-19.

At the current stage of the pandemic, it is no longer possible, and also futile, to go into protracted lockdowns, he said, noting that infection numbers will inevitably go up again once lockdowns are lifted.

At the same time, this does not mean Singapore should lift all restrictions and open up to the extent that countries like Britain and the United States have.

"What we need to do is to take the middle road, and everyone needs to adjust so that we can co-exist with the virus and find a new balance," he said.

He added that there was a difference between co-existing with Covid-19 and treating it as an endemic disease like influenza.

There are too many unknowns with Covid-19, which is also more lethal, he said, citing Professor Leo Yee Sin, the executive director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, who had said it is too early to tell if it will become a disease like the flu.

The growing number of cases in recent days has sparked concern and anxiety, with some people asking if the Health Ministry could provide information about the places where multiple people were infected.

Asked about this, Mr Ong said that his ministry would try its best to announce where the clusters are, and to do so earlier in the day.

But he added that with most people vaccinated and not exhibiting symptoms when infected, it has become trickier to link cases and figure out how the virus is spreading.

Citing the outbreak at the Jurong Fishery Port, he said: "By the time it's discovered, the cases are already high, it's already too late. But if we find out early, we will definitely announce it as soon as possible, so people can be careful."

The cluster at the port, first detected in July, was closed earlier this month.

The minister also acknowledged that it was not possible for people to stay at home all the time, but advised them - in particular, the elderly - to pay attention to personal hygiene when out.

"Wear a mask, don't pull it down to talk to your friends. Try not to touch too many things and don't rub your eyes or pick your nose," he said.

"Paying attention to these things will have a great effect in preventing infections."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.