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Singapore

Omicron wave seems to have peaked, but hospitals still busy with workers under ‘significant stress’: Ong Ye Kung

  • The number of cases attended to by emergency departments has come down over the past few weeks, from about 3,000 cases a day to 2,800 cases a day
  • But Health Minister Ong Ye Kung says this is "still a very high number”
  • Authorities have stepped up efforts to beef up manpower and transfer patients out of public hospitals to other care settings

SINGAPORE: Though there are “good indications” the Omicron wave has peaked, public hospitals and clinics are still very busy with healthcare workers under “significant stress”, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Friday (Mar 11).

Speaking at a press conference by the multi-ministry task force for COVID-19, Mr Ong said that the seven-day moving average of local COVID-19 cases peaked on Feb 26 at about 18,300 cases.

Since then, the case number has come down “steadily and gradually” to about 16,300 as of Thursday.

He added that the weekly infection growth rate stood at 0.93.

“What it means is that if it stays at 0.93, in four to five weeks, the number will halve. But we expect the week-on-week ratio to reduce further in the coming days,” he said.

Authorities also hope this reduction in daily caseload will accelerate in the coming days, he added.

“As of now, public hospitals, polyclinics, (general practitioner) clinics have been, and are still very busy, and healthcare workers have been coming under significant stress.”

Though the intensive care unit (ICU) utilisation rate is “well within capacity”, normal wards – especially the emergency departments – are “overloaded”.

In line with the decline in daily infections, he noted that the number of cases attended to by emergency departments in this period has come down from about 3,000 cases a day to 2,800 cases a day – “but it is still a very high number”.

SUPPORTING HEALTHCARE INSTITUTIONS

To support the hospitals, MOH has beefed up manpower with the help of Singapore Armed Forces medics and supervisors, as well as about 300 nursing students who are pursuing their advanced diplomas.

More public hospital patients are also being transferred to other care settings, such as private hospitals.

“We got the private hospitals to raise the risk profile of the kinds of patients they can take in and as a result, they have been increasing the number of patients they can take in from the public hospital … which is a big help,” said Mr Ong.

More patients have also been transferred from public hospitals to COVID-19 treatment facilities (CTFs). Mr Ong noted that there used to be more than 4,000 beds in such facilities, but they were not well-utilised – with occupancy levels of only 10 to 20 per cent.

But after repurposing facilities and consolidating manpower, occupancy levels are about 50 to 60 per cent.

In addition, emergency department admissions have been cut by working with partners such as the Singapore Civil Defence Force, which now brings clinically stable patients directly to CTFs, rather than bringing them first to public hospitals.

From this week, authorities have also started diverting some non-COVID-19 cases from public hospitals to other facilities, such as private hospitals and the CTFs, said Mr Ong.

For these patients who need monitoring and management of their chronic conditions, specific facilities have been set up, such as an entire hall at Connect@Changi, he added.

“Because of all these efforts, we have managed to transfer, on average, 470 patients per day out of public hospital wards and their (emergency departments).

“COVID-19 cases in hospitals have fallen from the peak of about 1,700 to 1,450 now, but as I say, it is still a high number. And we will continue these efforts to relieve the public hospitals, especially their emergency departments.

Mr Ong also urged members of the public to do their part in easing the pressure on healthcare workers, by not visiting hospital emergency departments unless it is necessary.

“Instead, go to a GP clinic or if you really need some kind of documentation proof, go to a test centre where you can be tested and be given such a document and then recover at home.”

He added: “I thank healthcare workers for your continued dedication and hard work remaining at your posts, despite the very heavy workload.

“I also want to thank our partners, private hospitals and those who run our CTFs, and also our GPs, our primary care partners, for all your support and taking on all this workload.”

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Source: CNA/cl(gr)

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