Singapore's 20,000 new COVID cases were expected, Omicron wave may peak in few weeks

People walk in the Kreta Ayer district of Singapore, popularly known as Chinatown, ahead of the Lunar New Year festive period on Saturday, 29 January 2022.  Singapore has seen a rise in Covid-19 cases in recent weeks, including some of the BA.2 Omnicron sub-variant. (Photo by Joseph Nair/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People walk in Singapore's Chinatown on 29 January, 2022. (PHOTO: NurPhoto via Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — The almost 20,000 new COVID-19 cases announced on Tuesday (15 February) were within expectations, with the Omicron wave anticipated to peak in a few weeks, said the multi-ministry taskforce (MTF) co-chairs.

In a virtual press conference chaired by the MTF on Wednesday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung stressed that the figure was “very in line” with the projection of Singapore's scientists’ model for the wave.

“We have also said before that the Omicron variant being more infectious, we should expect cases to reach 15,000 to 20,000 a day and maybe even more,” the taskforce co-chair added.

The Ministry of Health had on Tuesday confirmed 19,420 new COVID cases in Singapore's highest daily infection count ever since the start of the pandemic, and more than twice of Monday's 9,082 cases.

It surpassed the previous high of 13,208 new cases reported on 4 February and brought Singapore's total case count to 497,997.

Despite the high numbers, the “worst fear” that the intensive care unit (ICU) wards in Singapore’s healthcare system will be overwhelmed did not happen – with “no sign of that happening”, said Ong.

Recently, the ICU occupancy has hovered around 20 to 30 cases, a “fraction of the bed occupied during the Delta wave”.

“This is because Omicron is inherently a less severe disease, but also very importantly, our vaccinations and boosters are working,” said Ong.

Masks to stay but some measures streamlined

With cases in Singapore expected to peak in a few weeks' time before they start coming down, Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong said that the city-state will continue to keep to current safe management measures (SMMs) but with some tweaks.

“Once the (Omicron) wave is over, we can then consider bolder moves such as adjusting the group size to 8,10, or even more,” the MTF co-chair added.

Finance Minister Lawerence Wong, who is also MTF co-chair, stressed that while certain measures will be "streamlined and rationalised", wearing of masks "will remain status quo for now" and remain required in both indoors and outdoors settings.

For example, measures such as a cap of 50 per cent of employers at workplaces will stay in place but they will be aligned with community SMMs.

As such, workers who have face masks on will not need to maintain safe distancing in the workplace and social gatherings of up to five persons will be allowed in workplaces.

There is also no need to cross out alternate seats on park benches or the urinals in the men’s toilet if people are masked, Ong said.

“The men will know, sometimes, alternate ones are crossed out, which is not necessary so long as you're wearing your mask,” he added.

Similarly, people who are masked and wish to take a photo together do not need to stand a metre apart, Ong said, adding that newspapers or magazines can be placed in common areas and hair dryers in public showers, as long as good hygiene practices are maintained.

“I think all these little things really don't matter anymore and we can do away with them. Our people know that we are in a crisis. And we can start to remove these little daily reminders that are not really material anymore,” he said.

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