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Singapore's current COVID-19 policies are effective, can handle surge in cases, say experts

Singapore's current COVID-19 policies are effective, can handle surge in cases, say experts

People walking near Paya Lebar MRT station. (Photo: Calvin Oh)

SINGAPORE: The current spike in COVID-19 cases in Singapore is higher than anticipated, but the Government's policies are effective and should be able to manage the surge, experts told CNA.

"Singaporeans and foreign residents in Singapore should not be worried about the recent increase in the number of COVID-19 cases," said Dr John P Ansah, Assistant Professor in the Health Services and Systems Research Programme at Duke-NUS Medical School, and a faculty fellow at the National University of Singapore.

"The current policies implemented by the government have proven effective and I am confident it will be enough to manage the current surge in cases."

Dr Ansah's recent work includes modelling the trajectory of the COVID-19 outbreak in Singapore to understand how different interventions impact the community spread.

He added that most of the new COVID-19 cases are expected to be mild or with no symptoms.

While case numbers in Singapore have reached new highs daily, over the last 28 days nearly 98 per cent of the infected individuals have had mild or no symptoms, according to the latest update by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Thursday (Sep 23).

In that same period, about 1.8 per cent required oxygen supplementation, 0.2 per cent required ICU care, and 0.1 per cent of cases have died.

As of Wednesday, 82 per cent of Singapore's population has completed the full vaccination regimen or received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines.

CONCERN ABOUT HIGH CASE NUMBERS

As Singapore transits to an endemic living with COVID-19, some people have expressed concerns about the record numbers of cases in the community, while others have pointed to the low number of severe infections.

The country reported 1,504 new cases on Thursday. Two more fatalities were reported on Thursday by MOH, bringing the national death toll to 70.

As of noon on Thursday, 1,120 COVID-19 cases were warded in hospital. There were 163 cases of serious illness requiring oxygen supplementation and 23 patients in the intensive care unit.

Professor Dale Fisher, senior consultant at the National University Hospital's (NUH) Division of Infectious Diseases, said that Singapore is handling the transition to endemic living with COVID-19 in an "extremely intelligent, rational way".

"It's much easier to throw open the doors and say it's Freedom Day but that comes with a much higher price," he said at a webinar on Thursday evening about Singapore's COVID-19 exit strategy.

But at the same time, it's not feasible to continue lockdowns and exiting is "essential", he said as lockdowns affect people's mental health, livelihoods and many other aspects of life.

He said that the increase in cases has been faster than expected, but the "key figures" are the numbers of severe cases in hospital.

"To keep things in perspective, about 98 per cent of all the cases are either asymptomatic or mild," he said.

Professor Paul Tambyah, deputy director of the Infectious Diseases Translational Research Programme at NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, said that the current numbers are similar to many endemic respiratory infections in Singapore, such as tuberculosis and influenza.

"The problem is that this is a new disease and that is why people are worried. We are familiar with tuberculosis and influenza having lived with both for more than a hundred years," he added. 

"Once we know more about the disease, its prevention (through better vaccines) and transmission, we will be less worried. Hopefully that will come soon."

WILL THE SURGE CONTINUE?

Prof Tambyah said that while the cases look like they might continue to double every week, it is unlikely to continue beyond the next two to three weeks, although there are "competing mathematical models out there".

On the whole, the trajectory of cases and numbers of severe illness or deaths are very hard to predict, he said. 

Dr Ansah noted that as cases jump further, people's behaviour may change or companies and the Government "might implement policies" that are likely to reduce infection significantly.

"We might see doubling for a week or two in the worst-case scenario, but it is unlikely to continue much longer with the expected changes in behaviour and the introduction of policies to restrict contacts," he said.

The surge also suggests the spread of variants is more infectious than the original strain of COVID-19, he added.

"Available evidence from highly vaccinated countries shows that COVID-19 vaccines are only partially effective at preventing people from getting infected, but are much more effective at protecting against severe diseases, hospitalisation and death when infected with COVID-19," Dr Ansah said.

"Hence, it is important for people to get vaccinated to protect them from developing severe symptoms when infected."

Asst Prof Ansah said that the current rise in cases further emphasises that COVID-19 is "just something we are going to have to get used to".

"The virus will become endemic and cannot now be eradicated. Hence, going forward policies should ensure safeguarding the livelihoods of the population, while protecting them from the severe consequences of the virus," he said.

"Policies that aim to eradicate COVID-19 (i.e. “zero-COVID” strategy) are likely to be unsuccessful in the long term and carry significant economic and societal costs."

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Source: CNA/hm

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