Omicron cases to recover at home, community facilities as Singapore eases approach to managing COVID-19 variant
SINGAPORE: Singapore will ease its approach to managing COVID-19 cases infected with the Omicron variant from Monday (Dec 27).
Instead of being isolated in dedicated facilities by default, Omicron cases will be placed on home recovery or treated at community care facilities depending on their clinical presentation, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) late on Sunday night.
"International evidence indicates that the Omicron variant is likely to be more transmissible but less severe than the Delta variant, and that vaccines, especially boosters, retain substantial protection against hospitalisations caused by Omicron," said MOH.
"In the last week, we had several unlinked Omicron cases as well as clusters in the community. This was not unexpected given the high transmissibility of the variant."
Based on the authorities' "updated understanding", Omicron cases will be allowed to follow Protocols 1-2-3 as with other COVID-19 cases, said MOH.
Those who are vaccinated or below 12 years old will be discharged in 10 days, while unvaccinated patients will be discharged in 14 days. People who are well but test positive will continue to self-test, including using antigen rapid tests (ART), to discharge from the third day onwards.
Close contacts of Omicron cases will be issued a seven-day health risk warning instead of being quarantined for 10 days, and those currently in quarantine will be progressively discharged over the next few days. They would have to self-test with ART daily before leaving their homes.
"Contact tracing efforts would shift back towards self-reporting by family members and leveraging digital tools such as TraceTogether, and tight ringfencing of vulnerable settings such as hospitals, nursing homes, MSF elderly homes and preschools," said MOH.
It added: "The adjustments in our approach for managing local Omicron cases will allow us to focus our healthcare resources on severe cases and protecting the vulnerable settings.
"It also allows us to go back to having a single streamlined approach to manage COVID-19, regardless of COVID-19 viral strains, which will facilitate operations on the ground and compliance to the protocols."
EXPECT RAPID DOUBLING OF CASES
As of Saturday, Singapore has detected 546 confirmed Omicron cases comprising 443 imported cases and 103 local cases, said MOH.
In the last week, there were 13 unlinked community Omicron cases and 78 Omicron cases from local linked community transmission.
According to MOH, the Omicron variant has been detected in more than 110 countries, mainly in Africa and Europe.
"Current observations from affected countries/regions suggest that the Omicron variant is more transmissible than currently circulating variants. Globally, the Omicron variant has overtaken the Delta variant as the predominant variant in numerous countries, such as the United Kingdom and Denmark," it said.
Available data thus far suggests that Omicron infections face reduced risks of hospitalisation and severe disease compared to Delta infections, said the ministry.
"Locally, our Omicron cases have so far not been severe as well – none has required intensive care or oxygen supplementation, although this may be partially due to most cases being fully vaccinated and from younger age groups," it added.
Preliminary estimates from overseas studies also indicate that two doses of mRNA vaccines reduce the risk of symptomatic infection from Omicron by about 35 per cent. The risk is further reduced to about 75 per cent lower for individuals with a primary and booster mRNA regimen.
"There should be better protection against severe infection and death due to cellular immunity and other factors," said MOH.
"It is therefore important for us to press on with our booster vaccination programme to enhance protection against infection and severe disease."
The ministry said it expects a new wave of local cases "soon" given the higher transmissibility of the Omicron variant.
"However, the peak of the wave can be blunted and we can avoid overwhelming our healthcare system again if everyone plays their part to get their vaccinations and booster doses, self-test regularly and self-isolate if tested positive," said MOH.
In particular, those who have recently arrived from overseas or been in contact with an infected person should reduce their social interactions.
"In the coming days and weeks, we should expect more community cases, and rapid doubling of cases. This is again a process we need to go through, in order to live with COVID-19.
"We have done whatever we can to prepare ourselves for it; especially in administering boosters to our population and starting vaccinations for our children. We seek the cooperation and understanding of everyone, as we weather through an Omicron wave in the next one to two months," added the Health Ministry.