S'pore could see 2,000 Covid-19 deaths yearly; Govt using vaccines, boosters to stem spread: Janil

Dr Janil Puthucheary said Singapore's Covid-19 death rate is one of the lowest in the world at 0.2 per cent. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Singapore could eventually see about 2,000 Covid-19 deaths a year despite the best possible medical care, most of whom will be the elderly and those already unwell.

On its part, the Government seeks to use a combination of high vaccination rates, booster jabs and natural immunity from mild infections to stop the disease from spreading as an epidemic here, said Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary in Parliament on Monday (Nov 1).

Dr Janil said Singapore's Covid-19 death rate is one of the lowest in the world at 0.2 per cent, compared with 3 per cent or higher in countries that experienced a surge in cases before vaccination. The country has seen 407 deaths as at Sunday (Oct 31).

This rate of 0.2 per cent is comparable to catching pneumonia, he told the House. Every year, before the pandemic, about 4,000 patients would die as a result of influenza, viral pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, the Ministry of Health said there were 4,153 deaths from pneumonia and influenza in 2020. This compares with 4,442 such deaths in 2019, 4,387 in 2018, 4,216 in 2017 and 3,856 in 2016.

Dr Janil said Singapore is trying hard to avoid "excess mortality" due to an inability to provide adequate medical care.

"In other words, though we will have fatalities as a result of Covid-19, we will not see more overall deaths that we would in a normal non-Covid year. Nearly every other country that has arrived at that destination has paid a high price, in lives," he said.

This is why despite saying that Singapore is living with Covid-19, the nation cannot simply open up and risk having the number of cases shoot up, he added.

"Because more and more cases will translate into more and more ICU beds used, and beyond a certain point that will force us to accept a lower standard of care, and hence have more deaths that could have been prevented," he said.

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Up until recently, the absolute number of deaths here has been kept small by ensuring that few people caught Covid-19 and also that those who were infected got good treatment and care, he said.

"Now that we have to live with Covid-19, we will continue to protect people from getting infected through vaccination and safe management measures, but this protection is not complete. That is why much larger numbers will get infected," he said.

Over time, the absolute number of deaths from Covid-19 will rise despite the best possible medical care, he noted, possibly resulting in 2,000 deaths per year.

Dr Janil added: "We must make sure that everyone who is infected with Covid-19 will receive proper medical care by our healthcare workers and hospital system, and be given the best chance to fight the disease."

He said: "The current situation will not last forever. We will eventually come out of this. Eventually enough of us will be vaccinated or will have been infected, that we will see the case numbers come down and the situation stabilise. But in getting there we should try to keep the number of deaths as low as possible."

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