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Hospital beds could fill up in a week if a COVID-19 cluster grows 'uncontrollably': Ong Ye Kung

Hospital beds could fill up in a week if a COVID-19 cluster grows 'uncontrollably': Ong Ye Kung

Cordoned-off tables and chairs at a food centre on Jul 22, 2021 on the first day of the return to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert). (Photo: Marcus Mark Ramos)

SINGAPORE: Protecting Singapore's healthcare system was a "deeper underlying reason" for going back to tighter COVID-19 measures in recent weeks, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Wednesday (Jul 28).

Speaking at a virtual awards ceremony for healthcare scholarships, Mr Ong explained in greater detail how rising COVID-19 cases could overwhelm Singapore's hospital capacity.

"The Jurong Fishery Port cluster was spawning clusters in many markets, which have to be closed. There is a risk that it transmits far and wide in our community, especially to seniors who frequent the markets," said Mr Ong.

"A quarter of them remain unvaccinated and they are at risk of falling very ill if they are infected with COVID-19," he added. "Against this risk, we look at our hospital capacity for COVID-19 patients." 

READ: Return to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) does not change roadmap of treating COVID-19 as endemic: Ong Ye Kung

NUMBER OF HOSPITAL BEDS

Among Singapore's active COVID-19 cases as of Tuesday, 21 patients have serious illness requiring oxygen and two are in critical condition in the intensive care unit.

More than 540 are in stable condition in hospitals, while another 1,234 are in community care facilities.

Singapore can open up about 1,000 ICU beds for critically ill COVID-19 patients if needed, Mr Ong said.

He noted that although "only a small handful" of ICU beds are now occupied by COVID-19 patients, authorities have already opened up close to 70 beds, which is double the number from two weeks ago. 

"We are preparing to open up more ICU beds these few weeks," he said.

READ: Jurong, Senoko fishery ports to get enhanced COVID-19 safe management measures 

Singapore also increased the number of isolation beds for COVID-19 patients in hospitals to 1,000. About 80 per cent of these beds are currently occupied, some by suspected COVID-19 cases, said Mr Ong. 

If the number of COVID-19 hospitalisations goes up further, more patients would have to be discharged to community care facilities, more beds would have to be repurposed for COVID-19, and hospitals may have to defer care and scale back beds for patients without COVID-19.

"The odds of a large surge in cases are stacked against us: We knew that when a cluster grows uncontrollably, infection numbers would double every seven to 10 days, which meant that hospital beds could fill up in a week. Beyond that, we could be overwhelmed," Mr Ong said.

DIFFICULT TIME FOR HEALTHCARE WORKERS

This has happened in many countries around the world, he noted. 

"Hospitals could not take in patients anymore. Very sick people had to be turned away, or lie along the corridors. Hospitals ran out of oxygen. Doctors had to choose who lives, who dies. 

"That is why, in a pandemic like this, we protect our healthcare system robustly. We cannot let a human tragedy like this happen in Singapore," said Mr Ong.

READ: MPs raise questions on Jurong Fishery Port, Sinovac, differentiated measures for fully vaccinated people

Mr Ong also said that this is a difficult time for all healthcare workers. 

"Many have not had a proper rest for the past 20 months. But it is also times like this that you see a profession’s true colours - how they unite, dedicate to their cause, take care of their patients, and of each other," he added.

A total of 164 scholarships were awarded on Wednesday, including awards for nursing, healthcare administration, community care and medicine. 

A Healthcare Talent Scholarship was introduced this year for in-service administrators, allied health professionals, pharmacists and nurses to further their careers in healthcare administration, management and leadership.

Commending the scholarship recipients, Mr Ong said: "It is very important that scholarships are not just for the very young. All of us need to continue to learn throughout our lives and careers, hone our skills and knowledge, and reinvent ourselves from time to time, and we will support you to do so."

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Source: CNA/hm(gs)

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