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COVID-19 cases from hospital clusters, nursing homes form less than 1% of total reported community cases

COVID-19 cases from hospital clusters, nursing homes form less than 1% of total reported community cases

Pedestrians outside Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore on Apr 30, 2021. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

SINGAPORE: COVID-19 cases from hospital clusters and nursing homes formed less than 1 per cent of the total number of reported community cases between April and September this year, said Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary on Monday (Nov 7).

From Apr 1 to Sep 30, there were about 330 reported cases from COVID-19 clusters in hospitals and about 3,000 cases reported by nursing homes, he told Parliament in response to a question from MP Sylvia Lim (WP-Aljunied).

She asked about the number of patients or residents who contracted COVID-19 from within residential healthcare facilities such as hospitals and nursing homes. 

These COVID-19 cases constitute a “small proportion” of the total number of reported community cases, Dr Puthucheary said.

“As we move towards living with COVID-19, we no longer adopt a zero-COVID posture in hospitals and nursing homes, where all patients or nursing home residents need to be tested before admission and where infected patients are isolated in hospital COVID wards,” he added.

“Notwithstanding these measures, we continue to take necessary precautions to protect patients and residents, and are ready to step up the COVID-19 measures such as visitor restrictions when necessary.” 

Vaccination is Singapore’s primary defence against the virus, said Dr Puthucheary, adding that although it cannot completely stop infections, it is effective in preventing severe illness from COVID-19. 

The Health Ministry has provided COVID-19 vaccinations to more than 90 per cent of eligible nursing home residents. 

"With these measures, we have kept Singapore’s overall case fatality rate at about 0.1 per cent, well below the global average of around 1 per cent," he said.

In a supplementary question, Ms Lim asked whether the reported COVID-19 cases in hospitals and nursing homes could be underestimates, given that some patients could be asymptomatic. 

“The numbers may be an underestimate, we did not do daily testing on everybody,” said Dr Puthucheary.

He added that it would be inappropriate to subject everyone in hospitals and nursing homes, including visitors, to COVID-19 testing. The Health Ministry takes a "risk-based approach" to testing, he said.

Singapore has collected “quite a lot of data” in the last few years, which has allowed scientists to model the transmission, clusters and the spread of COVID-19 in different settings.

“So yes, it may be an underestimate, but I think we are confident that we have a robust handle on the relative proportions. It is approximately correct ... I don’t think our underestimate is so far off that the number will be reversed, for example," said Dr Puthucheary.

Ms Lim also asked if the Health Ministry was studying whether patient-to-patient transmission was a more common cause of infections, compared with healthcare worker-to-patient transmission. 

In response, Dr Puthucheary said a detailed study would be needed to conclude which posed a greater risk at any point in time. 

“The COVID-19 circumstances have changed quite significantly over the three years. Simplistically, we had different variants with different transmissibility and infectivity characteristics, but we also had very significantly different measures in place at different time periods over these nearly three years,” he added. 

“So I think it would be too reductionist and too simplistic to look at the overall picture. This would require quite a detailed study to be able to come to a conclusive position as to which was a greater risk at any one point in time.”

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Source: CNA/hw(mi)


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