SINGAPORE: Contingency plans have been put in place to boost the Singapore healthcare system’s capacity to care for COVID-19 patients if the need arises, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Friday (Mar 20) as the country recorded 40 new coronavirus cases.
Singapore has in recent days seen a surge in the number of new cases, many of which were imported, raising concerns about the country’s capacity to care for COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks.
"While we have additional capacity and plans to expand them when the need arises, we hope we don't have to do so," said Mr Gan.
READ: ‘Sufficient flexibility and buffer’ in Singapore’s capacity to care for COVID-19 patients: Gan Kim Yong
The minister said there are plans to establish quarantine facilities that can be fitted out and used as medical facilities.
These could be used to accommodate patients with mild symptoms who do not really require medical support, or patients who are ready to be discharged but need further observation to ensure they are clear of any viruses.
“We're in the process of fitting these out and getting these quarantine facilities ready for these patients. We don't need this additional capacity yet, but it is better to put it in place ahead of time," he said.
He added that hospitals are already prepared to turn normal wards into COVID-19 wards, should the need arise.
Ministry of Health (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak said many of these contingency plans were already in place well before the COVID-19 outbreak, such as to deal with mass casualty events.
He said that while Singapore’s current capacity is adequate, the Government does need to prepare for the possibility of an increasing number of patients with or suspected to be infected with COVID-19.
“We have started some preparations for opening up additional isolation rooms and isolation wards, as well as ICU beds to allow us to have sufficient capacity and capability, if the time comes that we need to cater for an increased number of COVID-19 patients,” said Dr Mak.
Such preparations, which cover all of Singapore’s public health institution, also includes other considerations such as equipment availability, manpower and its deployment.
The Government is also looking to increase public hospitals’ capacity by working with private hospitals, he said, adding that even before the COVID-19 outbreak, useful partnerships had already been set up, with public hospital patients being treated at private hospitals.
Dr Mak added that the Government will also be setting up additional contact tracing teams in anticipation of a possible increase in the number of suspected patients.
"Many of the steps we're taking are anticipatory, but we believe that it is important to have these in readiness ... if we do have to deal with more patients," he said.
Singapore on Friday announced several new measures to combat the spread of COVID-19 within the country, such as launching a new mobile app to boost contact tracing efforts.
The Government has also suspended all events and gatherings with 250 participants or more until Jun 30, and has extended a suspension for all activities for seniors by public agencies for another 14 days.
"We do want to make sure to reduce the number of cases as much as we can … That is why we are announcing additional safe distancing measures … to help us keep the number of cases to as few as possible to help us manage our hospital capacity as well as our healthcare workers," Mr Gan added.