COVID-19: MOH official answers query on how cause of death is determined

Nicholas Yong
Assistant News Editor
A/P Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at Singapore's Ministry of Health, addresses reporters at a virtual press conference on Friday, 8 May 2020. PHOTO: MCI

SINGAPORE — It is the doctors in attendance who determine whether a deceased patient’s cause of death is due to COVID-19, said a top Health Ministry official who serves on Singapore’s multi-ministry taskforce on the coronavirus.

Director of medical services Kenneth Mak, who has played a prominent role in the country’s fight against the pandemic, stressed that his ministry is “quite transparent” in announcing and reporting all deaths related to COVID-19 on a daily basis.

“Our approach really is first to ask ourselves: is this directly attributable to COVID-19 infection, or complications related to COVID-19 infection? In which case, if they are, we will report them as such,” he said.

A/P Mak added, “Even if they were not due to COVID-19 infection, then they would be reported still, but we will not necessarily ascribe them to COVID-19 unless we have been informed by the medical authorities, whether the doctors attending to the patient or the court if these were made coroner's cases. If they were telling us directly that these were deaths attributable to COVID-19 infection, then we will be reporting them as such.”

At a virtual press conference on Friday (8 May), he responded to a query from Yahoo News Singapore on how the cause of death for coronavirus-related fatalities is determined, given that a total of six individuals infected with COVID-19 have died, but their cause of death was not officially attributed to the virus.

The latest such fatality was a 44-year-old Bangladeshi man, whose cause of death was attributed to a heart attack.

The other five fatalities – all men – were two Indian nationals aged 32 and 46, two Malaysians aged 40 and 80, and one Bangladeshi aged 47. The causes of death for four of them were heart attack (Malaysian, 40), coronary artery disease (Bangladeshi and Indian, 32), and fall from height at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (Indian, 46) while the cause of death for the 80-year-old Malaysian was not revealed.

A/P was also asked if these deaths were, by definition, due to complications related to COVID-19.

Singapore’s official COVID-19 death toll stands at 20, with 90 per cent of the victims aged above 60.

A/P Mak’s comments were made on the same day that Singapore reported a preliminary 768 new COVID-19 cases in Singapore as of Friday noon, bringing the total tally to 21,707.

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