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23% week-on-week increase in COVID-19 community cases, driven by rise in BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants: MOH

23% week-on-week increase in COVID-19 community cases, driven by rise in BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants: MOH

People seen walking along Orchard Road in Singapore on Mar 29, 2022. (Photo: CNA/Marcus Mark Ramos)

SINGAPORE: Singapore has seen a 23 per cent week-on-week increase in COVID-19 community infections, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Tuesday (Jun 21).

"The rise is largely driven by increased spread of newer Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5,” it added. 

Although the BA.2 subvariant still accounts for the bulk of Singapore’s COVID-19 infections, the Health Ministry said the proportion of BA.4 and BA.5 infections is rising.

About 30 per cent of the COVID-19 cases in the community in the past week were cases with BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants, as compared to 17 per cent, 8 per cent and 3 per cent for the previous three weeks respectively.

MOH added that BA.5 alone is estimated to contribute to 25 per cent of all cases this week.

“The surge in BA.4 and BA.5 cases is likely to continue, driven by their higher transmissibility compared to BA.2,” said MOH.

The Health Ministry said current international and local evidence shows that the severity of BA.4 and BA.5 infections is similar to that of earlier Omicron strains.

“The current safe management measures, including the requirement to wear masks while indoors and vaccination-differentiated (safe management measures) for some higher-risk activities, will remain.”

MOH said it will continue genomic surveillance for circulating subvariants in Singapore, including requiring some infected individuals to take an additional government-funded polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab for genomic sequencing.

VACCINATIONS CRITICAL

“Vaccinations are critical to protect us against severe illness when infected with COVID-19, especially given the uptick in cases. In this regard, we strongly recommend that seniors aged 70 years and above (and especially those aged 80 years and above) take their second booster shot,” added the ministry.

All other eligible individuals should complete their primary vaccination series and get at least their first booster as soon as possible. MOH said it will soon be deploying mobile vaccination teams to help seniors get boosted.

The Health Ministry also said five new Joint Testing and Vaccination Centres (JTVCs) will begin vaccination and COVID-19 testing operations from Jun 23.

Located in Ang Mo Kio, Bukit Merah, Sengkang, Woodlands and Yishun, the five new JTVCs will bring the total number of such centres across the island to 10.

These centres will offer the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty and Moderna/Spikevax vaccines.

The existing centre in Bishan will offer the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty and Novavax/Nuvaxovid vaccines.

Those aged 12 years and above may walk into any of the centres to receive their vaccination and booster.

"As we step up more JTVCs and consolidate our resources and free up this space for other uses, we will be closing the vaccination centre at Raffles City Convention Centre on Jul 18," said MOH.

The vaccination centre will accept appointments made via the national appointment system and walk-ins for vaccination until Jul 18. 

HOSPITAL CAPACITY

Singapore has not seen a significant increase of severe COVID-19 cases in its hospitals. The number of cases in the intensive care units also remains low, said MOH. 

But the Health Ministry said that the public hospitals remain busy caring for non-COVID patients, and many hospitals experience high bed occupancies. 

"To ensure that precious emergency department resources are available to patients who need urgent emergency care, we strongly advise the public to only seek medical treatment at a hospital’s (emergency department) for serious or life-threatening emergencies.

"Patients with minor ailments are strongly urged to seek medical attention at general practitioner clinics," said MOH. 

While the population in Singapore is now more resilient against COVID-19, MOH said all individuals must continue to play their part in observing the safe management measures. 

They should also exercise individual and social responsibility. Examples include self-testing especially when symptomatic, as well as avoiding social interactions if one has fever or respiratory symptoms, or tests positive for COVID-19.

"As persons with early COVID-19 symptoms may test negative on the antigen rapid test (ART), they should consider repeating an ART test the next day if symptoms continue or worsen. This is because it takes time for a person’s viral load to reach the threshold for detection by the test kit," said MOH. 

NEW COVID-19 CASES

Singapore reported 7,109 new COVID-19 cases as of noon on Tuesday, comprising 6,393 local infections and 716 imported ones.

There were no fatalities on Tuesday.

The last time Singapore reported more cases than this was on Mar 29, when infections hit 8,164.

The weekly infection growth rate is 1.23, the highest since May 24 when the weekly infection growth rate hit 1.35. A number above 1 indicates that the number of new weekly COVID-19 cases is rising.

Cases tend to increase on Tuesdays, with Health Minister Ong Ye Kung previously referring to such a pattern, writing on Facebook in October 2021 that numbers would "always spike after the weekends".

There have been 1,378,090 COVID-19 cases in Singapore since the start of the pandemic. 

Editor's note: This article has been amended to clarify the date that Singapore had more COVID-19 cases than the number reported on Jun 21.

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Source: CNA/zl(gr)

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