SINGAPORE — From Friday (24 September) until 23 October, visitors will be barred from visiting patients in hospital wards in a bid to maintain Singapore's healthcare capacity amid rising COVID-19 cases in the community.
As more cases have been detected among staff, patients, and visitors, this has led to ward closures and staff quarantine in some affected hospitals, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a press statement on Wednesday.
The rise in such community cases has put "a strain on hospital bed capacity and staffing at a time when more hospital beds are ramped up" to care for COVID-19 patients, it noted. The ministry did not identify the hospitals affected.
As part of a host of tightened measures, all visits to hospital wards, save for some exceptions, will not be allowed till 24 October. Warded patients are allowed visitations, on a case-by case basis as assessed by each hospital, include those who are in critical condition, paediatric patients and birthing or post-partum mothers.
Patients who require additional care support from caregivers are also allowed visits, including those who have mental incapacities or family members who are undergoing caregiver training.
Only one pre-designated visitor would be allowed for such exceptions, capped at one visit per day.
Patients who are in critical condition may be allowed up to five pre-designated visitors, with a maximum of two visitors at each patient’s bedside at any one time.
All visitors approved to visit will need to produce a valid negative antigen rapid test (ART) or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result obtained within the last 24 hours of each visit, as administered or supervised by MOH-approved COVID-19 test providers.
"This is a mandatory requirement for all visitors, regardless of the individual’s vaccination status, except for persons who have recovered from COVID-19 and are able to present a valid Pre-Event Test (PET) exemption notice," said the MOH.
Approved visitors must also don face masks with good filtration capability at all times, such as surgical masks and reusable masks that are made of two layers of fabrics.
Eating or drinking in the inpatient wards are not allowed and visitors must not use the patients’ toilets in the wards and must avoid sitting on patients’ beds, the MOH said.
Separately, higher-risk patients, regardless of vaccination status, must undergo ART testing at emergency departments (EDs) of all hospitals or at 24-hour emergency clinics.
These include patients who are lodged in ED beds for prolonged observation in the short stay unit or observation wards as well as those who are required to undergo mask-off assessment or procedures lasting for 15 minutes or more.
Currently, patients presenting with acute respiratory infection (ARI) symptoms at the hospitals’ ED or 24-hour emergency clinics will be segregated from the other patients.
"However, with more COVID-19 cases presenting pre-symptomatically or asymptomatically, testing will be needed to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission at the ED," said the MOH.
Those accompanying the patients who are allowed to stay with them throughout the observation period –beyond 30 minutes – will also be subjected to the ART test.
The ministry said that the government will subsidise the costs of ART for both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients until the end this year. But those accompanying them may have to pay for the tests, depending on the hospitals.
"We urge those who have non-emergency conditions or mild symptoms to avoid seeking treatment at the hospitals and consult a general practitioner (GP) or urgent care centres instead," the MOH added.
Those who suspect that they may have COVID-19 can proceed to a swab and send home (SASH) clinic instead, the ministry noted.
Surveillance testing frequency for hospital staff, as well as vendors who work in the hospital, has also been increased to identify those infected with COVID-19 early, said the MOH, adding that it will regularly review and calibrate the introduced measures.
"(We) seek the understanding and cooperation of all Singaporeans, as the measures will safeguard our hospital staff and patients and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission in our healthcare institutions," the ministry said.
The measures come as 1,178 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in Singapore on Tuesday – taking the country's total case count to 79,899 – and three more deaths due to the disease.
Tuesday's count marks the highest daily recorded COVID-19 cases since 20 April last year, when 1,426 infections were reported.
Daily new cases in Singapore are expected to rise to 2,000 by early October, if the current rate of infection persists, authorities here have said.
To date, 82 per cent of Singapore's population have completed their full COVID-19 vaccination regimen, or received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines, and 84 per cent have received at least one dose.
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