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Visits to hospital wards and care homes to be suspended for 4 weeks amid Omicron wave

Visits to hospital wards and care homes to be suspended for 4 weeks amid Omicron wave

Patient care in the Emergency Department at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

SINGAPORE: In-person visits to all hospital wards and residential care homes will be suspended for four weeks from Jan 24 to Feb 20, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Friday (Jan 21).

This is to “better protect our patients and healthcare workers”, particularly in settings with vulnerable people, amid a looming Omicron wave, MOH said.

It specified that for hospitals, the suspension will apply to public acute hospitals, community hospitals and private hospitals.

But during this period, institutions will have the discretion to allow visits for “exceptional cases”, such as if the patient or resident is critically ill.

Visitors will be subjected to visitor management measures, such as requiring a valid negative antigen rapid test (ART) result from within the last 24 hours of the visit.

To ensure patients and residents can stay connected with their loved ones, the institutions will also continue to support communication through telephone or video calls.

ISOLATION PERIOD REDUCED, PROTOCOL 2 EXPANDED

As Singapore readies for a wave of COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant, healthcare protocols are also being revised.

For both Protocol 1 and Protocol 2, the maximum isolation period for fully vaccinated individuals and children below 12 will be cut from 10 days to seven days.

This comes as studies by the National Centre for Infectious Disease have shown that the viral load for Omicron infections is lower than for the Delta variant throughout the infection period, said MOH.

But the maximum isolation period for unvaccinated individuals aged 12 and above will still remain at 14 days for both protocols.

In addition, more COVID-19 patients will now qualify for Protocol 2, which allows them to recover in the community.

The latest changes come after healthcare protocols were shifted earlier this month to focus on managing COVID-19 cases based on the severity of their symptoms and their risk factors.

Now, all children aged five to 11, regardless of vaccination status, will qualify for MOH's Protocol 2. Under this protocol, individuals who are usually asymptomatic or experiencing mild symptoms have to self-isolate for 72 hours, and may return to normal activities if they test negative after that.

In addition, patients under Protocol 1, who are recovering well and whose symptoms have improved, may also now transit to this track. Those under Protocol 1 are typically those who are unwell, who may be sent to an isolation facility depending on their risk level.

“(The move) means that they can be discharged earlier and return to normal activities if they test negative on a self-administered ART taken 72 hours or more after their first positive COVID-19 test,” said MOH.

These changes will be progressively implemented in the next few weeks, where Protocol 2 can be applied to “all low-risk, asymptomatic individuals” in Protocol 1 settings.

At a press conference by the multi-ministry taskforce for COVID-19, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said: “It’s important for us to make this move, because that way we can handle this large wave without over-burdening the health response system, and medical care can go to those who need it the most.”

But MOH added that those who test ART positive at non-clinical settings, but who identify themselves as potentially at-risk should still visit a doctor for medical advice, even if they feel well.

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Source: CNA/cl

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