COVID-19 cases with mild symptoms can get positive status certified after supervised ART at test centres
SINGAPORE: To relieve the caseload at clinics, people may take a supervised antigen rapid test (ART) at quick test centres or combined test centres and have their positive COVID-19 status recorded on the HealthHub app within 30 minutes.
This applies to people who had first tested positive on their self-administered ART and have mild or no symptoms, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a media release on Tuesday (Feb 15).
The arrangement will be in place from Feb 16 to Mar 15, said MOH, adding that it will review if this should be extended.
"These supervised self-administered ARTs will be fully funded by the Government for these four weeks," said the ministry.
The testing arrangement was first announced by Health Minister Ong Ye Kung in Parliament on Tuesday.
General practitioner clinics, polyclinics and hospitals have seen a surge in the number of patients in recent weeks. Many COVID-19 cases with mild or no symptoms wanted to get an ART conducted by a medical professional and officially documented, MOH noted.
"I hope we can divert many of the very mild cases away from GP clinics into the QTCs (quick test centres). We have about 200 QTCs now, all over, including in malls. We will start with about a quarter of them," Mr Ong said in Parliament.
Bookings for an appointment to get tested via ART will open by the end of Tuesday, he added.
Giving further details, MOH said it will start with 48 centres and increase this to 205 by end of the week.
The centres will not issue recovery memos or medical certificates as these are not required by employees and students to return to work or school, MOH said.
"Persons will be notified of their ART test result over SMS. Upon testing positive on the supervised self-administered ART, these persons will be placed under Protocol 2 and can each collect three ART kits from vending machines," it added.
Under the current health protocols, they are to self-isolate at home for at least 72 hours and should visit a GP clinic only if they feel unwell, MOH said. Once they feel well and test negative on their self-administered ART, they may exit isolation.
Members of the public can book their supervised self-administered ART here.
PRESSURE ON GPs
Mr Ong acknowledged that GPs are facing “quite a bit of pressure”, with queues of patients forming outside their clinics.
“We have to help the GPs,” he said in Parliament.
“Many patients that go to the GPs and the GPs feedback to us, they either have mild or no symptoms, but they self-tested got themselves positive, (then) decided - I better see a GP,” he said.
They do so to get a medical certificate, to get ART kits or due to travel considerations.
“Many of them actually worry about travel. If they have to go through a PCR test … they want to show that actually I had COVID-19 and I'm a shedder and I recovered’,” Mr Ong said.
The Health Ministry said emergency departments at hospitals have similarly received many patients who are not in need of emergency medical assistance.
"These visits are not necessary, and risk compromising the standard of care for those who genuinely require medical attention," MOH said.
Responding to a question from MP Yip Hon Weng (PAP-Yio Chu Kang) on how the healthcare system is coping with the rise in infections from the Omicron wave, Mr Ong reiterated that the number of cases is within the Government’s expectations.
What is important now is not so much “topline” numbers, but how the numbers translate into disease severity and impact on healthcare capacity, he said.
Singapore's daily COVID-19 case count has hit five figures on some days. It reported 9,082 new infections as of noon on Monday.
“By and large, the healthcare system is coping well,” Mr Ong said, citing figures.
At the peak of the Delta wave, 171 beds were occupied in the intensive care unit (ICU) compared to the latest numbers - 23 - despite registering 10,000 cases a day.
The pressure is not on the clinical side of healthcare, but on the operational side, Mr Ong said.
He added that the number of calls to hotlines is also increasing, and with the help of other public agencies, more than 90 per cent of calls were answered without being dropped.