New COVID-19 wave hits Singapore, 3 in 10 cases are reinfections: Ong Ye Kung

Health minister says no evidence that any of current XBB strains cause more severe illnesses.

Crowd wearing mask on street during Covid-19 pandemic (left) and Minister Ong Ye Kung (Photos: Getty Images and MCI/Youtube)
Crowd wearing mask on street during Covid-19 pandemic (left) and Minister Ong Ye Kung (Photos: Getty Images and MCI/Youtube)

SINGAPORE - While another COVID-19 wave hit Singapore in the past month, Minister of Health Ong Ye Kung has assured the public that there is no evidence any of the current XBB strains caused more severe illnesses.

With the estimated number of daily infections rising from about 1,400 a month ago to 4,000 last week, Ong said that about three in 10 of the current cases were reinfections; higher than the 20-25 per cent from the last wave, The Straits Times reported.

According to the Ministry of Health's website, Singapore saw 28,410 cases during Epi-week 13, an increase from the previous week's 14,467. This then dropped to 16,018 in Epi-week 14. Singapore lowered the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level also from yellow to green in February 2023.

Ong, who was speaking at the National Healthcare Group’s Population Health Collective annual workplan seminar on Friday (14 April), also addressed comments attributing the recent rise in local infections to travellers bringing in the virus.

“The virus is endemic, which means it is always circulating within our community. In such a situation, what drives our local waves is not imported infections, but reinfection of existing individuals in the community,” Ong was quoted as saying.

People get re-infected when the protection against infection from past infections or vaccination wanes over time, and that causes the number of cases to rise, said the minister.

The Straits Times reported that MOH's virus sampling showed multiple COVID-19 variants are now circulating – XBB, XBB.1.5, XBB.1.9, XBB.1.16, XBB.2.3, BN.1, CH.1.1.

However, there wasn't a clear dominant strain.

Singapore's current COVID-19 situation: 'This is what endemicity should look like'

The minister added that the most important aspect of any infection wave is the severity of symptoms and whether patients become hospitalised.

According to Ong, the number of hospitalised COVID-19 patients jumped to 220 from 80 over the past month, below what was seen during previous infection waves.

There were also fewer than 10 COVID-19 patients in intensive care at any one time over the past month.

While the current wave was not severe, Ong warned that additional caseloads did add on to the workload of hospitals.

He urged the audience to educate family, friends and patients to stay home and wear a mask if they are not feeling well, and to get vaccinated annually if they are vulnerable or over the age of 60.

“What is happening is a clear demonstration of how far we have come," The Straits Times reported Ong as saying.

"Even during a COVID-19 infection wave like now, we continue to live life normally, not pre-occupied over infection numbers, and not constantly talking about it. This is what endemicity should look like," Ong said.

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