Coronavirus: Singapore measures meant to ensure healthcare system copes at peak

But this would also mean outbreak may last longer, and Singapore has to be prepared for that, says Gan

Multi-Ministry Taskforce Co-Chairperson Minister Gan Kim Yong speaks at a press conference on March 17, 2020. ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

Many of Singapore's measures are aimed at ensuring that when coronavirus cases hit their peak, it is at a lower level, is deferred for as long as possible and the system still has capacity to spare, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

But this would also mean that the outbreak may last longer, and Singapore has to be prepared for that, he added at a news conference to announce new measures to arrest the spread of the virus.

Mr Gan, who is co-chairman of a multi-ministry task force set up to deal with the coronavirus, was responding to a question about whether there was a risk that Sin-gapore's healthcare system would not be able to cope with a large increase in the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases.

The Ministry of Health reported a record 47 confirmed cases yesterday, bringing the total number here to 313. Of the 47, 33 were imported cases.

The task force also announced that from 11.59pm tomorrow, all Singaporeans, permanent residents, long-term pass holders and short-term visitors entering Singapore will be issued a 14-day stay-home notice.

Mr Gan said: "Many of the things we have put in place... are aimed at reducing the peak number, and also to defer as long as possible so that we have sufficient capacity for the cases, and we do want to preserve as much buffer capacity as possible.

"So, it is in our interests to ensure that we reduce it as much as possible and to defer it as long as possible. By deferring the peak, it also may mean that the outbreak might last longer because, instead of everyone coming down with Covid-19, we stretch it out."

He added that this was part of the strategy that Singapore has put in place, which includes reducing both imported cases and the risk of local transmissions.

Director of medical services Kenneth Mak, who was also at the news conference, along with National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, said that the healthcare system being possibly overwhelmed was a scenario that they were prepared for.

Associate Professor Mak said: "This is something that we are always mindful of, that there is a possibility that the number of cases will continue to rise. And there is always a potential that if numbers rise very significantly over a short period of time, that they may potentially overwhelm our capacity and capability.

"That has not occurred yet, and we do have plans that allow us then to expand our capacity and capability accordingly as needed."

Prof Mak also said that the travel restrictions announced yesterday were aimed at cutting the number of imported cases.

He said the aim was to detect and ring-fence cases early so that there were fewer imported cases generating new clusters.

Mr Wong, who is also co-chairman of the task force, said that the Ministry of Education (MOE) will announce new measures to complement the travel restrictions that the task force has in place.

"They are indeed going to take extra precautions for family members and children who have gone overseas during this period, and when the family members return, even if they had returned before the deadline that we have put in place, MOE will want the children to stay at home for 14 days just to have extra precautions," said Mr Wong.

He added that Singaporeans should not rush to come back home to meet the deadline, but that the responsible thing to do would be to self-isolate at home for a few days.

"You never know what can happen because, especially if you are overseas and given the way the virus is spreading everywhere in the world, the best precaution you can take to protect yourself and your family members is just to spend some time self-isolating at home," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2020, with the headline Singapore measures meant to ensure healthcare system copes at peak. Subscribe