SINGAPORE - A pilot facility to allow for international business meetings amid the pandemic has been converted into a facility to house Covid-19 patients instead, as Singapore steps up preparations for a future where the coronavirus becomes endemic.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Thursday night (Aug 27) that Connect @ Changi is now a community care facility, confirming an earlier report by The Straits Times.
Such facilities house people infected with Covid-19 but have mild symptoms and lower risk factors.
Connect @ Changi is located at Hall 7 and 8 of the Singapore Expo.
Hall 7 of Connect @ Changi officially started operations as a community care facility on Monday and Hall 8 is expected to be ready on Sept 1, MOH said.
Both halls have a total capacity of 660 rooms, and will be in operation for at least six months.
In a Facebook post, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that while Connect @ Changi was meant for travellers, it has adapted and repurposed itself, given the tight border measures that are still in place.
There are now seven community care facilities, including Connect @ Changi, he added. This is up from three in May.
In all, these facilities can accommodate more than 5,500 individuals who are clinically well or have mild symptoms, and do not require much medical care, Mr Ong said.
"It also means that there is a stronger buffer to protect our hospital capacity, and prevent it from being overwhelmed if the pandemic turns for the worse," he added.
The other six community care facilities are D'Resort NTUC, Tuas South, the former Ang Mo Kio Institute of Technical Education, Village Hotel Sentosa, Civil Service Club @ Loyang and Bright Vision Hospital.
When The Straits Times (ST) visited the area around Connect @ Changi on Wednesday night, about 30 people were seen entering and leaving the building over a one-hour period. A few of them appeared to be uniformed staff of a local healthcare provider.
At a press conference on Aug 6, Mr Ong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19, said the authorities will admit Covid-19 patients into community care facilities instead of hospitals as far as possible.
About 40 per cent of infected individuals have been admitted to community care facilities, but this proportion is expected to increase as more people get fully vaccinated, he said then.
MOH has set up more community care facilities following spikes in Covid-19 cases in recent months, due to large clusters such as the one linked to Jurong Fishery Port, which has more than 1,000 cases.
A Connect @ Changi spokesman told ST that the facility will stop receiving travellers and facilitating business activities while performing its new role as a community care facility.
It added that it will continue to work closely with the relevant parties to position the facility for the progressive reopening of Singapore's borders.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry said on Thursday that it is reviewing the timeline for the reopening of Connect @ Changi, taking into account the increase in global and local vaccination rates.
It added that Singapore will gradually facilitate more travel through other initiatives such as the vaccinated travel lane.
The Republic has unilaterally launched the travel lane that will let vaccinated travellers from Germany and Brunei enter Singapore and go about their activities without quarantine, provided they test negative for Covid-19 several times.
Meanwhile, short-term visitors from places such as Hong Kong, mainland China (excluding Jiangsu province), and Taiwan can also enter Singapore without quarantine under the air travel pass scheme.