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SINGAPORE — Singapore's current surge in COVID-19 cases came much earlier than authorities had hoped for, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Friday (17 September), a day after the city-state reported 910 new infections – the highest since 1 May last year.
"We had hoped that this transmission wave can come later, maybe at Transition Stage B, but it has presented itself much earlier largely because Delta is so much more infectious," he said during a virtual doorstop interview.
Since 10 August, Singapore has been in the first stage – or the Preparatory Stage – of a four-part road map towards endemic COVID-19. The other three stages are Transition Stage A, Transition Stage B, and lastly, COVID-19 Resilient Nation.
While this "major wave of transmission" came earlier than expected here, it is inevitable for every country that has decided to live with the virus, said Ong, who is the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce co-chair.
"This is almost like a rite of passage before humans and the virus achieve a new equilibrium and things stabilise," he stressed.
High vaccination rate in Singapore
However, Ong noted that Singapore is going through the current COVID-19 wave after about 80 per cent of the population have been fully vaccinated against the disease, as opposed to other countries which encountered the wave very early in the pandemic, incurring many casualties.
Friday marks the 26th day of the current wave, which typically peaks between four and eight weeks.
Cases in Singapore have been doubling every week, with the average number of daily cases increasing from 146 a fortnight ago, to 682 in the past week. Over 98 per cent of these cases have exhibited no or mild symptoms. Only 1.6 per cent and 0.1 per cent of total infections over the last 28 days required oxygen supplementation and are in critical condition in the intensive care unit respectively.
"We are not the first country to have gone through this baptism of fire, and we will not be the last," Ong cautioned.
If the current rate of infection persists, which is "rising faster than expected", he observed, Singapore could see 2,000 daily new cases next month.
"But what we are quite clear, is that you can't sustain many rounds or doubling, even when we have a very small conversion into oxygen supplementation needs or ICU care," Ong said, noting that the next two weeks would be crucial, especially in determining whether Singapore will run out of ICU beds and overburden hospitals as a whole.
Default home recovery programme
Expanding the home recovery programme to make it a default arrangement for eligible COVID-19 patients aged 12 to 69 – up from 50 previously – will help address such uncertainties. This will start from Saturday.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak noted that the number of severely ill cases is not rising in sync with the total number of infections here.
This trend in cases is being watched closely and if it continues to follow a similar "disconnect" between the number of community cases with those hospitalised, Singapore "may actually be alright and the healthcare resources we have would be well able to cope", he added.
But Associate Professor Mak noted that while the indications are encouraging at this point, the data collected is still at a very early stage.
"We do need to look at the situation over the next two weeks to better understand whether that trend continues," he reiterated.
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