Omicron BA.4, BA.5 subvariants drive 23% weekly rise in COVID community cases: MOH

People take part in a Taichi workout at the Rain Vortex of Jewel Changi Airport on June 11, 2022 in Singapore. (Photo by Suhaimi Abdullah/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People take part in a workout at the Rain Vortex of Jewel Changi Airport on 11 June, 2022 in Singapore. (PHOTO: NurPhoto via Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — Singapore is experiencing a 23 per cent week-on-week increase in COVID-19 community cases, driven largely by the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Tuesday (21 June).

While the BA.2 subvariant still accounts for the bulk of Singapore's cases, the proportion of BA.4 and BA.5 infections is rising, MOH said in a press release.

About 30 per cent of community cases in the past week were that of the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants compared to 17 per cent, 8 per cent and 3 per cent for the previous three weeks, respectively.

"The surge in BA.4 and BA.5 cases is likely to continue, driven by their higher transmissibility compared to BA.2," said MOH. The country confirmed its first three cases of the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, which have been driving South Africa's fifth COVID wave, in May.

Current safe management measures, including the requirement to wear masks while indoors and vaccination-differentiated measures for some higher-risk activities, will remain, MOH added.

It will also continue genomic surveillance for circulating subvariants in Singapore, including requiring some infected cases to take an additional government-funded polymerase chain reaction swab for genomic sequencing.

In an update on MOH's website, Singapore recorded 7,109 new COVID-19 cases in Singapore on Tuesday, more than double the 3,220 cases a day before.

Singapore's weekly COVID-19 infection growth rate rose to 1.23 on Tuesday, up from 1.17 on Monday.

The rate refers to the ratio of community cases for the past week over the week before, where a figure of more than one means that the number of new weekly cases is increasing.

High bed occupancies at hospitals; 5 more JTVCs to open

Many hospitals are experiencing high bed occupancies, with public hospitals remain busy caring for non-COVID-19 patients, said MOH. However, there has not been a significant increase in severe COVID-19 cases being hospitalised, it added.

Members of the public should only seek medical treatment at a hospital’s emergency department for serious or life-threatening emergencies.

MOH also advised those who are presenting early COVID-19 symptoms and had tested negative for their antigen rapid test (ART) to consider repeating the test the next day if symptoms continue or worsen.

"This is because it takes time for a person’s viral load to reach the threshold for detection by the test kit," it said.

Separately, from Thursday, five new joint testing and vaccination centres (JTVCs) will begin vaccination and COVID-19 testing operations, bringing the total of such premises to 10.

The centres at Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Merah, Sengkang, Woodlands, and Yishun will offer the Pfizer-BioNTech/ Comirnaty and Moderna vaccines. Of the 10 JTVCs, the Bishan centre, which began operations on 24 May, remains the only one to offer the Novavax vaccine.

With the opening of more JTVCs, the vaccination centre at Raffles City Convention Centre will close on 18 July.

"We strongly recommend that seniors aged 70 years and above (and especially those aged 80 years and above) take their second booster shot. All other eligible persons should complete their primary vaccination series and get at least their first booster as soon as possible," said MOH.

On Monday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung had urged those aged 60 and above to get a booster shot ahead of the upcoming COVID-19 wave, noting that some 80,000 seniors have yet to have their boosters.

Seniors who have not taken their first booster shot are three times more likely to die from the disease, compared with those in the same age group who had all three shots, Ong had said in a TikTok video.

The COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce co-chair had said Singapore will face its next wave of Omicron infections as early as July or August.

To date, 1,378,090 COVID-19 cases have been recorded in Singapore, with 1,405 deaths due to the disease.

As of Monday, 92 per cent of the city-state's total population have completed their full COVID-19 vaccine regimen, while 77 per cent have received their booster shots.

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