S’pore’s XBB Covid-19 wave to peak in mid-Nov with 15,000 average daily cases, mask rules not ruled out

The XBB Omicron sub-variant, otherwise known as BA.2.10, is currently the dominant cause of Covid-19 infections in Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The current wave of Covid-19 infections is being driven by the XBB sub-variant, and is expected to peak at an average of 15,000 daily cases by about mid-November.

Projections based on previous waves of infection show that Singapore has adequate healthcare capacity to cope with the rise in coronavirus cases, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Saturday.

But the authorities do not rule out bringing back stricter mask rules or vaccination-differentiated safe management measures (VDS) if needed, such as requiring those dining at restaurants to be fully vaccinated.

Such measures were fully lifted on Oct 10.

MOH said public hospitals here have already used various measures, such as deferring non-urgent admissions, to provide 200 more beds to care for Covid-19 patients.

In the coming two weeks, public hospitals will operate a total of more than 800 beds for Covid-19 patients, the ministry said. Capacity at Covid-19 treatment facilities will also be ramped up in stages to provide more than 800 beds by November.

"This is likely to be a short and sharp wave driven by XBB, but contributed to no small extent by reinfections," said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung at a press conference.

Singapore is striving to never go back to the restrictions of the circuit breaker period during the early stages of the pandemic in 2020, said Mr Ong, who urged Singaporeans to take personal responsibility and keep up with vaccinations amid the new wave of infections.

But bringing back stricter mask mandates or other safe management measures cannot be ruled out, he added.

"Maybe we put back our masks, say indoors, or indoors and outdoors, if the situation requires it... We may have to step up VDS to an appropriate level in order to protect those who are not up to date with their vaccinations," said Mr Ong.

"We are monitoring the XBB wave closely and the impact on the healthcare system to see if some of these measures are necessary."

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Meanwhile, seniors and immuno-compromised people are advised to continue to wear masks in crowded indoor settings.

MOH also urged members of the public to go to the hospital emergency departments only for emergency conditions.

To relieve the load on general practitioner clinics and polyclinics here, employers are urged not to require medical certificates from employees who have self-tested positive for Covid-19 or have symptoms of acute respiratory infection.

"This is to avoid patients with mild or no symptoms making unnecessary visits to GP clinics, which would compromise the standard of care for other patients who require medical attention," MOH said.

Those who are well are encouraged to work from home if they can do so, while those with mild flu-like symptoms are also encouraged to consider teleconsultations with their doctors.

The overall adult bed occupancy rate at hospitals at the middle of the week was about 93 per cent, said Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak at Saturday's press conference.

To ensure there are adequate beds to meet rising demand for both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 hospitalisations, public hospitals have been instructed to progressively curtail non-urgent elective inpatient clinical work.

This is to give the hospitals greater flexibility to adjust capacity, Associate Professor Mak said.

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The XBB Omicron sub-variant, otherwise known as BA.2.10, is currently the dominant cause of Covid-19 infections in Singapore. During the week of Oct 3 to 9, it accounted for 54 per cent of local Covid-19 cases.

First detected in August, it has been found in more than 17 countries, including Australia, Denmark, India and Japan.

While XBB is at least as transmissible as the other strains currently circulating, including BA.5 and BA.2.75, which account for 21 per cent and 24 per cent of local cases respectively, MOH said there is no evidence that it causes more severe illness.

However, there is evidence to show that XBB may be driving an increase in reinfections, which currently make up about 17 per cent of total new cases.

There were 8,763 new local Covid-19 infections recorded on Oct 14, down from the recent peak of 11,399 local cases on Oct 11.

MOH said the increase in hospitalised cases remains proportionate to the rise in overall local cases.

As at Oct 14, there were 562 Covid-19 patients in hospital, 44 requiring oxygen supplementation and nine in intensive care.

This is compared with 365, 37 and 13 respectively a week ago, and despite the seven-day moving average of local cases almost doubling from 4,714 to 7,716 over the same period.

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