The gist: MPs discuss new public health situation framework, care facilities and stiffer drug laws

Transitional care facilities used in the Covid-19 pandemic will stay in use in the medium or even long term to address rising hospital workloads. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - Parliament continued debating the White Paper on Singapore’s Covid-19 response on Tuesday, and passed three Bills. Here are some key takeaways:

1. Transitional care facilities to stay

Transitional care facilities (TCFs) set up during the pandemic to ease the workload in hospitals are set to stay for the medium or even long term. Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said they are for medically stable patients from public hospitals who are waiting for long-term care arrangements such as nursing home care. During the pandemic, Singapore set up 500 TCF beds across five sites. A new TCF will be opened in the west near Ng Teng Fong General Hospital in the next few months.

Why it matters

Singapore’s public hospital bed occupancy rose from the pre-Covid-19 level of 87.6 per cent in 2019 to 93.1 per cent in 2022. These facilities will help address the rising hospital workload. The number of older patients with complex conditions, who require longer stays, has grown, and Mr Ong said more of them are hospitalised because of other viral infections or respiratory illnesses. This could be the after-effect of Covid-19 infections, a rebound in other types of infections or even a result of the rapidly ageing population. 

READ MORE HERE: Care facilities set up during Covid-19 pandemic to become permanent, new one coming up in the west

2. No more Dorscon

Singapore will soon say goodbye to the colour-coded disease outbreak response framework, Dorscon, used during health emergencies. In its place will be a tiered framework that better reflects the severity of public health situations. The first tier will denote a peacetime state, while the fourth and most serious tier will denote a state of public health emergency. There will also be two middle tiers for situations where a pathogen of concern has been detected, and where there is a public health threat.

Why it matters

The Dorscon system was intended to guide crisis management during health emergencies, but the Government made Dorscon levels known to the public during the Covid-19 pandemic in the interest of transparency. This sometimes resulted in public panic when the colour level was raised. The new tiered framework is meant to provide a more intuitive way to communicate the severity of a crisis. The law will spell out the measures to be taken at each tier, providing more clarity on what can be expected depending on the situation.

READ MORE HERE: Singapore to replace colour-coded Dorscon framework with situational tier system

3. Lawrence Wong rebuts Pritam Singh on original Covid-19 report

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong rebutted a call by Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh to release the original after-action review on Singapore’s Covid-19 response. Mr Singh had taken issue with the Government releasing only the White Paper on Singapore’s Covid-19 response, which he said was merely a synthesised version of the full review led by former head of civil service Peter Ho.

Why it matters

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Mr Singh said it would be important for Singaporeans to know the perspectives of all who participated in the review. But Mr Wong countered that the full review contained information on the internal workings of the Government and its crisis management structures, which are used for dealing with not just pandemics but also external security threats. Publishing this information would pose a national security risk. There were also parts of the review that delved into commercial sensitivities, such as how Singapore leveraged different partners to get essential supplies. He added that the White Paper contains more than just a redacted version of the full review as it also includes the after-action reviews of other agencies and the learnings gained by the Government beyond the review period. 

READ MORE HERE: Uncalled for to suggest Govt withholding info in Covid-19 White Paper: DPM Wong rebuts Pritam

4. Laws amended to target psychoactive drugs

Singapore has amended the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Constitution to better target psychoactive substances, defining them as any substance that is abused for a high. This excludes substances such as alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, food additives and health products. With the changes to the law, there will also be increased punishments for drug possession.

Why it matters

Psychoactive substances were defined by molecular structure before, and this resulted in the authorities having to play catch-up whenever a new substance emerged that was not defined as illicit under the law. The new definition moves away from this more granular approach to a catch-all approach as it is based on whether a substance induces a psychoactive effect. The increased punishments for drug possession will address the problem of drug users dealing in larger quantities of illicit drugs. 

READ MORE HERE: S’pore changes laws to tackle new psychoactive substances, increases penalties for drug possession

If you have a few more minutes…

Showing proof of marriage for flat 

Couples who purchase an HDB flat under the Fiance-Fiancee Scheme must show proof of marriage within three months of getting their flat or risk losing it. Of those who bought flats under the scheme in the past 10 years, 79 couples have yet to produce their marriage certificate as at the end of 2022.

In three of the cases, HDB has allowed one party to retain the flat, with the inclusion of a parent, as the party would have qualified for the purchase as part of a family nucleus. HDB also initiated compulsory acquisitions in two cases, while five couples will be surrendering their flats.

The other cases consist of couples who cited difficulties proceeding with their marriage during the Covid-19 period.

Polyclinic waiting times 

People who walked into a polyclinic to see a doctor in February 2023 had a median wait time of 17 minutes. And those who waited longer than 95 per cent of all patients had to wait for 164 minutes. Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary, revealing these figures, said the Ministry of Health does not track the number of walk-in patients turned away, but added that those who are unable to get a same-day appointment will be triaged based on medical needs, and will be seen by a doctor if they are assessed to require urgent attention.

Fake news on Covid-19 

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act Office received more than 280 pieces of public feedback related to Covid-19 between 2020 and 2022. There were four POFMA cases involving the issuance of seven correction directions that were linked to such public feedback. Between 2020 and 2022, 21 POFMA cases were Covid-19 related. Senior Minister of State for Communications and Information Janil Puthucheary said not all the reports resulted in corrections, and the Government focused on communication and education to counter falsehoods, such as through the WhatsApp channel. 

Correction note: An earlier version of this article did not state that the seven correction directions related to four Covid-19 cases referred only to those arising from 280 public feedback and inquiries related to Covid-19. We are sorry for the error.

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