SINGAPORE: The Government aims to test about 16,000 residents across 80 nursing homes in Singapore for COVID-19 over the next few weeks, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Friday (May 8), as he stressed the importance of keeping seniors safe amid the pandemic.
Testing has already been completed for 9,000 nursing home employees, with one positive case at Ren Ci nursing home in Ang Mo Kio.
Mr Gan, co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force, said during a press conference that more than 30 residents at Ren Ci who might have come into contact with the infected employee have been tested. Their results have returned negative, he said.
The Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) said in a press release on Friday night that the infected employee at Ren Ci is a 35-year-old resident care associate. She tested positive on Thursday.
The woman is currently warded in an isolation room at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases. Prior to hospital admission, she had gone to work.
"While at work, she had complied with enhanced precautionary measures undertaken by the nursing home, including the donning of necessary personal protective equipment when caring for residents at the home," said AIC.
READ: All residents and staff at nursing homes to be tested for COVID-19, some employees to be housed on-site or at hotels
PROTECTING THE ELDERLY
At the press conference by the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force, Mr Gan emphasised the importance of protecting the elderly from contracting the coronavirus.
“The seniors are at a significantly increased risk of severe disease if they are infected with COVID-19,” he said, adding that 95 per cent of COVID-19 deaths in Singapore were senior citizens.
"Nearly one in six seniors developed severe symptoms and needed intensive care in the hospital. It is therefore critical that we make extra efforts to protect our seniors," he said.
Singapore reported 768 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, taking its total number of infections to 21,707. Twenty people have died from the virus.
The authorities have implemented several measures to protect the elderly, including minimising movement among nursing home and residential home employees, he said.
Client-facing staff have been instructed to move to designated accommodation facilities in the nursing homes, or at hotels during the "circuit breaker" period, Mr Gan said.
“About 2,600 nursing home staff are in the process of moving into hotels,” Mr Gan said. Employees who work at residential homes funded by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) are also similarly moving on-site, or to hotels.
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About 700 staff working in MSF-funded residential homes will live at on-site facilities, and about 400 will move to hotels, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, who was also present at the press conference.
Mr Lee added that 4,600 employees and residents from residential homes have been swabbed, with most of the results returning negative so far.
Mr Lee said that transportation will be provided for the employees to get to work safely, and that their meals will also be provided.
The Government will foot the cost of putting up these employees at the hotels, the authorities said.
The circuit breaker measures that were put in place in early April are expected to last until Jun 1, with the authorities easing some measures from May 12. Factors they will take into consideration when easing the restrictions further include sustained low or single-digit cases in the community.
Mr Gan also said at the press conference that all traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) halls will be able to sell retail products from May 12, following feedback from the elderly about the inconvenience of having to travel long distances to those that had been allowed to operate.
Currently, only 130 TCM halls with registered practitioners are allowed to sell retail products. They had been given the green light to do so on May 5, after the authorities announced last week the easing of some COVID-19 circuit breaker measures.
Among the businesses allowed to operate from May 12 are home-based food businesses, selected food retail outlets and food manufacturing firms, Mr Gan had announced on Saturday.
Basic haircut services at hairdressers and barbers can also resume, but must be done within an hour.
Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said at the press conference on Friday that Singaporeans should not rush to go out when businesses reopen on May 12, as the circuit breaker will still be in place despite the decline in COVID-19 cases in the broader community.
“We have made some announcements on some easing of measures from May 12 onwards, but that should not be an opportunity for us to go out and (go out) more frequently," said Mr Wong.
“We are making progress because of the circuit breaker and we should continue to do our part to comply with the measures for the rest of the circuit breaker period. We should remain vigilant and not take any chances,” he said.
He added that restrictions around social activities for seniors are likely to remain in place for "quite some time, until we are very confident of the precautions that can be taken in order to ensure that these activities are safe for seniors".
Watch the full press conference: