SINGAPORE: All residents and employees at nursing homes and other such facilities serving the elderly will be tested for COVID-19, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) in a joint news release on Saturday (May 2).
The additional measure covers nursing homes, welfare homes, sheltered homes and adult disability homes.
“Homes serve highly vulnerable and frail seniors, who are at higher risk of developing serious health complications if infected with COVID-19," said the ministries.
"MOH and MSF will therefore prioritise testing for residents and staff in all homes serving the elderly," they added.
“This will ensure that any COVID-19 infections in the homes are detected as early as possible for treatment, as well as to limit transmission."
MOH said it started testing on Apr 29 and aims to complete the process by next week, while MSF began testing on Apr 30 and hopes to complete this by Saturday.
Before this announcement, the authorities have been "actively testing" symptomatic residents and staff members. The ministries added that they will fully pay for the costs of all tests as well as all follow-up treatment that is required.
SOME EMPLOYEES TO MOVE TO DESIGNATED ACCOMMODATION
Authorities are also working with the homes to provide alternative housing arrangements for employees who interact with elderly residents.
These employees will be housed at designated facilities on-site or at hotels, to reduce their exposure to the community during the "circuit breaker" period.
"We will arrange for staff of the homes to stay at hotels if the home they work at is unable to house them on-site," said MOH and MSF.
“For staff who have to move into hotels, we will provide funding for the accommodation and for the homes to provide meals, dedicated transport and daily necessities for the staff.
"MOH will also provide support for nursing homes to enhance onsite accommodation spaces to improve safe distancing, where necessary."
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Affected employees will be given a S$500 allowance to help them with the transition.
“We understand that the move could cause inconvenience to the affected staff and appreciate their sacrifices and efforts in keeping our elderly safe," said the ministries.
Several nursing homes in Singapore have been hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, raising concerns about vulnerable seniors.
Following the outbreak of the coronavirus at Lee Ah Mooi Age Home in Thomson Lane on Mar 31, visitors were no longer allowed in nursing homes, and infection control measures were put in place.
In a Facebook post on Saturday, Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min said that the current precautionary measures put in place by nursing homes have been effective, but that authorities "cannot be complacent".
"We need to do more to protect our seniors, who are at higher risk of developing serious health complications if infected with COVID-19," he wrote. "We also need to protect our nursing home staff, whose work is crucial in ensuring the well-being of our elderly home residents. This is why we are prioritising homes serving the elderly."
Dr Lam thanked nursing home staff for their hard work amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, our nursing homes have been working very hard to ensure that our vulnerable seniors remain protected and well cared for,” he said.
“These are unprecedented times, but through collective efforts, we will be better able to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak and protect those who are more vulnerable in our community.”