SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) has apologised for the delays in taking people under quarantine orders to government facilities, following complaints about the process and confusion over the information given to affected individuals.
"We have been getting a lot of feedback on quarantine operations and its related ground coordination and communications lapses," said MOH in a Facebook post on Tuesday (Aug 3).
"We are doing the best we can to ramp up resources. Our sincere apologies to affected individuals and their families for the delays and lapses."
Among those affected was Ms Nur Faeza Agus, who said she received a call from MOH on the afternoon of Jul 26. She was told that she would have to be placed under quarantine as she had been exposed to a COVID-19 case.
Later that night, she was informed via a Health Ministry SMS that she had been in the same place as a COVID-19 case. But when she checked her TraceTogether app, there was no alert about possible exposure.
Her fiance did not receive any alerts either. Both of them had used the group check-in option that day.
“MOH couldn’t answer me on that. They said it might be an error,” said Ms Faeza, adding that she had already packed her bags the moment she received the SMS.
The next day at about 7am, Certis Cisco, whose officers help on the frontlines, called. Ms Faeza requested to be transferred to a government quarantine facility.
At that point, the Certis Cisco officer told Ms Faeza that another officer would call her within 48 hours to give her a one or two hours' notice before taking her to a government facility.
According to that officer, her parents would not be allowed to leave the home until her first swab test shows up negative.
That was the start of her week-long wait of being taken to a government facility.
WAITING FOR ANSWERS
When another Certis Cisco officer called later that afternoon, Ms Faeza was told that her parents could actually go wherever they wanted and need not be quarantined.
“So the confusion starts from there. Because the first Cisco (officer) said that they have to be quarantined until I get my first swab test result. But the second person told me that it’s not needed. They can do whatever they want, they can go wherever they want," she told CNA.
That evening, a swabber arrived and informed Ms Faeza that she would get the result of her PCR test via an SMS.
On Jul 28, MOH called again to ask where she was.
“He sounded blur already,” Ms Faeza said. “So I know something was not right. I asked him if there’s anything wrong, if there’s any error or something. He said no, no, no, you just wait for them to come. I said yeah, it’s more than 48 hours already.”
At about 6.30pm, MOH called again. This time, they wanted to investigate her quarantine order, said Ms Faeza, as there might be a “duplicate”. According to the officer, she could have been at two different places with other confirmed cases.
There were no major updates until Jul 31, when MOH informed her that her second swab test would be on Aug 2. She was later taken to a hotel to serve out the rest of her quarantine.
Ms Faeza took her swab test on the morning of Aug 2 and ended her quarantine the next day.
READ: More COVID-19 cases who are vaccinated may not need to be hospitalised as Singapore adjusts healthcare protocols
ANXIETY FOR SOME PARENTS
There were similar stories of delays and confusion on Facebook group Complaint Singapore.
One user, who only wanted to be known as Ayu, said she was informed on Jul 25 that her six-month-old would be quarantined as another child in the same infant care centre had tested positive for COVID-19.
MOH called her on Jul 27 to inform her of the quarantine order. She asked if her entire family could serve the quarantine order at home, but she said the staff member told her that the decision would be up to Certis Cisco.
On Jul 28, MOH’s swabber arrived. There were still no calls or visits from Certis Cisco, despite being told that they would get in touch within 48 hours.
“Having to go anywhere with a baby would require packing many, many essential things. They don’t seem to know the amount of anxiety we are under when issued with QO (quarantine order) and not knowing if we can stay home to serve it or pack and go to the facility," she said.
As of Jul 30, she said that she had not received any official documentation from MOH or Certis. The documentation was necessary as her son needed proof of quarantine for school.
Mr Leong Wai Thoe also experienced delays in being transferred to a government quarantine centre.
His son, a Pei Chun Public School student, was informed about a COVID-19 case in his class on the week of Jul 16.
On Jul 25, his classmates all took a PCR swab and his son tested negative. The day after, the school said that the whole class would be under quarantine. MOH’s official message came shortly after midnight on the 27th.
On that day, the mobile PCR team swabbed his son, and Mr Leong also informed MOH that his son could not be quarantined at home as it would affect other family members.
“As anxious parents, then we keep logging into HealthHub to check the PCR results,” he said, adding that he called the hotline only to be told that the PCR results were under MOH’s charge.
At 8.30pm the next day, they finally saw the negative test results on HealthHub, but Mr Leong said he noticed that the result was time-stamped about 14 hours ago.
From Jul 26 to Jul 29, Mr Leong said he had also called the hotline daily about being transferred to a government facility, only to be told each time that it would happen “today or tomorrow”.
“If they can tell us by tomorrow, we will come, then we can make other arrangements, then we know where is the end of the tunnel,” said Mr Leong. “But whenever it’s always today or tomorrow … then you cannot plan anything.”
CLEARING MOST OF THE BACKLOG
In its Facebook post apologising for the delays, MOH said that the number of people on quarantine has increased "many fold", with the outbreak of the KTV, Jurong Fishery Port and other smaller clusters.
"This surge has led to slower conveyance to government quarantine facilities for some persons under quarantine," said the ministry. "Our operations staff have been working very hard to handle the increased load."
It added that it has managed to clear most of the backlog over the weekend, and the situation “should settle down”.
“With Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), we are also finding that the number of contacts per infected persons has come down. With more of the population being fully vaccinated, more individuals are able to serve home quarantine if their homes are suitable. This will reduce the need for conveyancing,” said the ministry.
As of Monday, there are about 20,000 people under quarantine.
In a written response to a parliamentary question on Monday, MOH said that the mean time taken to issue a quarantine order from the notification of a case was two days, with the longest time interval being 14 days.
"This happened for a small number of individuals, where it was particularly difficult to trace the contacts of the infected," it said.