ST checks out SGH's new Covid-19 isolation room: I had only my boredom for company for 4 hours

The Straits Times journalist Shabana Begum was "admitted" to Ward@Bowyer, Singapore General Hospital's newly-built facility, for four hours before the first patients arrived.

SINGAPORE - With their metallic exterior, the box-like isolation rooms at Singapore General Hospital's newly built Ward @ Bowyer resemble futuristic capsules sheltering people from the hustle and bustle of space travel.

And they are indeed the bastions of peace they seem to be, for once I got past the door, it was as if time stood still.

Bored during the circuit breaker? Just wait till you are in an isolation room.

On Wednesday (July 15), I spent four hours in one at Ward @ Bowyer, before it took in its first patients.

Patients in the 50-room ward must be able to walk about, take care of themselves and be in a condition assessed as less likely to get worse.

Okay, check, no problem there.

I was ushered into room A6 at 8.20am by two nurses clad in full personal protective equipment after they verified my identification details.

Each tightly sealed room - comprising a bed, side table and an attached toilet and shower - is 2.3m by 5.6m, with a height of 2.5m.

It is not the tiniest of rooms, but there is not a lot of space.

The room is kept at a lower pressure compared with the outside, so that viral particles inside will not escape when the door is opened.

Isolation rooms line the corridor in Singapore General Hospital's purpose-built isolation ward, which is located in a carpark. PHOTO: ST FILE

Fresh air from outside is pumped into the room, and the contaminated air inside is removed through a negative pressure unit fitted with a high-efficiency particulate air (Hepa) filter at the foot of the bed.

In the room, the nurses took my blood pressure and walked me through the process, showing me the admissions pack, the in-room smartphone and a biosensor that must be worn at all times, except when in the shower.


The biosensor is worn around the right wrist like a watch, with the sensor wrapped around the ring finger like a plaster. It sends patients' heart rate, respiration rate and oxygen saturation level readings wirelessly to the clinicians.

That is all well and good, but my chief concern was, of course, Wi-Fi, given that the 3,200 sq m ward is built in a carpark. Fortunately, the Internet connection was decent.

Each isolation room is windowless and sealed shut, except for a narrow, transparent slit at the door facing the centre of the isolation facility. ST PHOTO: SHABANA BEGUM

The bed felt hard, but the room was set at a comfortable 24 deg C, and this is adjustable upon request.

After the doctor "checked in" on me at 9am, the lull began. The room was silent except for the air-conditioner's whirr and the occasional faint murmur of nurses outside.

The in-room smartphone is a lifesaver in all ways. It allows patients to contact the nurses through video-conferencing or via an app if they feel unwell or need assistance.

It also contains nine games for patients to pass the time.

At 9.30am, I started on a word search puzzle and tried other games.

When I looked up from the phone, I thought a good 30 minutes had passed, but it was only 9.40am.

I spent the next 50 minutes attending to pressing e-mail and taking photos and videos of the room.

The admissions pack given to every patient contains a thermometer, surgical masks and toiletries. Patients also receive a care pack filled with drinks and snacks. ST PHOTO: SHABANA BEGUM

This passed by quickly.

But the pace became glacial once I was done.

Out of sheer boredom, I started to count the number of holes on the Hepa filter - 57, 58... Wait; still only 10.50am?

A nurse gave me a thumbs-up through the narrow, transparent window at the door.

I felt a much-needed rush of warmth and human touch.

Before every meal, patients have to place their chairs at the door for nurses to drop off their meals. ST PHOTO: SHABANA BEGUM

I returned to the smartphone and browsed the multi-language reading materials. It was another interminable interlude before lunch was dropped off at 11.40am on a chair I had to place at the door.


Before being "discharged", I had to clean my shoes and bag with antimicrobial wipes. Patients will have to clean the bedside table and chair, and shower and change before leaving. The room is then disinfected, and any remaining micro-organisms killed by ultraviolet light.

I left at noon, after what felt like the longest four hours of my life.

And Covid-19 patients in isolation stay for about 14 days.

I silently vowed to myself that I will wear my mask, observe safe distancing rules and keep to the highest cleanliness standards.