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Singapore

New Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 ‘not a surprise’: Ong Ye Kung 

SINGAPORE: The discovery of new Omicron subvariants is “not a surprise at all”, as it is known that the virus that causes COVID-19 will continue to mutate, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Wednesday (May 18).

Speaking on the sidelines of a media event, Mr Ong noted how cases of the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants have been found in many countries - including in Singapore, with the country reporting its first three such cases on Tuesday.

He said: “What we learnt from the data and findings of scientists is that BA.4 and BA.5 have a transmission advantage over BA.1 and BA.2."

That is why the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants have been classified as variants of concern by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, he added.

“But more importantly, so far, there has been no evidence that the BA.4 and BA.5 will cause more severe illness.”

PUBLIC CONSULTATION ON HEALTHIER SG STRATEGY

Separately, Mr Ong gave an update on plans for a new national healthcare strategy - Healthier SG - which was first unveiled at Budget 2022.

The strategy and its reforms aim to address the challenges of an ageing population and improve population health outcomes.

Public consultations will be held from May 18 to Aug 15 this year, as part of efforts to involve Singaporeans in shaping the strategy. These engagements will be held in-person and through online surveys.

Mr Ong said: “In a nutshell, we want to find out: Why do residents not go to one doctor?”

Getting residents to register and stick with one doctor is a key pillar of the Healthier SG strategy. This way, doctors can better understand patients, their medical history, said Mr Ong.

He added that the Ministry of Health (MOH) wants to find out what residents hope to see in care plans given to them by doctors.

The feedback gathered will be studied and incorporated into a White Paper, which will be tabled for debate in Parliament later this year.

TOP THREE CONCERNS

MOH added that it has already begun engaging general practitioners (GPs) and senior management of healthcare clusters for feedback.

The biggest concern that has emerged thus far is about drug prices, said Mr Ong. 

“If you go to a GP (general practitioner) versus you go to a polyclinic, up to a certain point, polyclinic drug prices are cheaper.”

Drug prices and subsidies will thus have to be adjusted, and this is an issue authorities “have to really think about”, said Mr Ong.

Other examples of concerns include ones about technology systems, which are needed for data sharing.

But he added that his sense is that there is “a lot of buy-in” for the strategy.

When asked about whether these concerns about subsidies and technology would lead to higher healthcare costs - which the reforms are meant to tackle, Mr Ong said such costs are necessary for the long-run.

“Sometimes, a lot of things in life are like that. You invest in something that's preventative for the long-term. It will save you a lot of pain and costs in future.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants are classified as variants of concern.

Source: CNA/cl(aj)

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