SINGAPORE — A Ministry of Health (MOH) senior official said on Tuesday (28 April) that there is no “fudging” of the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in foreign worker dormitories, saying that other priorities such as isolating symptomatic individuals have to be considered before testing takes place.
Speaking at a virtual media briefing, the MOH director of medical services Kenneth Mak said, “It's not an issue of fudging or dodging or trying to hide numbers. It's really a question of making sure that our priorities and testing match the needs that we have on the ground and making sure that we report as transparently as we can.”
While there may be a bigger number of confirmed cases than what had been reported, there will always be a “catch up” and the numbers will reconcile, Prof Mak said in response to a question during the briefing. He was speaking before a virtual multi-ministry taskforce press conference was held after the briefing.
A reporter had asked Prof Mak whether there is a lag in the number of confirmed cases in Singapore as an official statement appeared to suggest that some symptomatic workers were isolated without being tested first.
Prof Mak replied that the first priority for the health authorities is to make sure they have the ability to isolate and keep workers residing in dorms who are symptomatic away from those who are not. Such a strategy is important and effective in order to disrupt the chain of transmission, whether it is at home or in a dorm setting.
While testing is an effective tool to support the management of the outbreak within the dorms, it is used more strategically to establish the level of infection among the workers, Prof Mak explained.
In some dorms, there are only an “isolated number of cases” and these are where the chances of success are greatest in terms of trying to disrupt the chain of transmission, he added.
“Therefore we are prioritising (testing) particularly (in) those dormitories to make sure that we are able to pick up cases of confirmed COVID-19 infection, but also doing active case finding...and keeping those close contacts separated from the rest of the community of foreign workers in a dormitory in order to disrupt that chain of transmission.”
Prof Mak noted that the rate of infection in various dormitories varies “over a very wide range”.
As such, for dorms whereby practically every patient presents with COVID-19 symptoms, Prof Mak said it makes “a lot of sense” to prioritise isolating these symptomatic workers.
The majority of such workers have minimal symptoms and are clinically very well. “Most of the time when we place them in these isolation facilities, and we keep a close eye on them, there isn't really much else we need to do other than the monitoring that we have put in place,” Prof Mak said.
“We eventually will need to test all of them, but the first priority is to get them out, make sure they're properly isolated given the high rate of infection present within those dormitories.”
On the same day, the MOH reported a preliminary 528 new COVID-19 cases in Singapore as of Tuesday (26 April) noon, bringing the total to 14,951 – the highest recorded in Southeast Asia. As with the confirmed cases in recent weeks, the vast majority of the new cases were foreign workers residing in dorms.
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