Singapore could see more than 15,000 COVID-19 cases a day as Omicron wave hits: Health ministry
The Omicron variant now causes at least 70% of daily cases, says task force co-chair Gan Kim Yong.
SINGAPORE: Singapore will likely see a “significant wave” of COVID-19 soon, with the more infectious Omicron variant now causing at least 70 per cent of daily cases, said co-chair of the multi-ministry task force Gan Kim Yong on Friday (Jan 21).
“But in reality, the proportion is likely to be higher, perhaps close to 90 per cent or more. Omicron has clearly dominated over Delta variant in Singapore,” Mr Gan said at a press conference.
“Given that the Omicron variant is more infectious, it is likely that we will soon see a significant wave.”
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said it expects the number of cases to rise sharply.
“Cases could double every two to three days and could reach 10,000 to 15,000, or even more, cases per day,” the ministry said in a media release.
Most of the Omicron cases have been “mild”, especially among people who are fully vaccinated and even more for those who received their COVID-19 booster shots, said Mr Gan.
“The percentage of those who needed oxygen supplementation, intensive care or die is far lower than during the Delta wave. This is in line with the experience of other countries like South Africa and the United Kingdom," he added.
Given Omicron’s lower severity, Singapore should focus its attention on the number of patients in the intensive care unit instead of case numbers, MOH said.
“Nevertheless, Omicron’s higher transmissibility means that we cannot let our guard down, as an uncontrolled rise in overall case numbers could still push hospital and ICU admissions to unmanageable levels,” it added.
BUSINESS CONTINUITY PLAN
Singapore must be prepared that a “significant proportion” of the workforce may be infected with the coronavirus, said Mr Gan, who is also Minister for Trade and Industry.
“If we have, for example, 15,000 cases a day, which is very possible, with each one of them out of action for an average of say about five days, we are looking at some 75,000 workers absent due to COVID-19.”
The number will be much higher if close contacts are included.
“This has been the experience of other countries and we cannot take it lightly," said Mr Gan.
Businesses should put in place “robust” business continuity plans to mitigate disruptions to operations, especially for those in essential services, he added.
To prepare for the Omicron wave, the Health Ministry will implement a series of measures, such as suspending visits to hospital wards and residential care homes for the next four weeks.
It has also made plans to optimise healthcare resources and adjust recovery protocols.
Studies by the National Centre of Infectious Diseases (NCID) have shown that although the Omicron variant is more transmissible, infected individuals carry a lower viral load and “generally recover faster”, noted Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.
Thus, the isolation period for fully vaccinated individuals and children under 12 years old will be reduced from 10 to seven days, he announced.
MOH will also allow more people to recover from COVID-19 under Protocol 2.
Under the protocol, individuals who are asymptomatic or experience mild symptoms have to self-isolate at home for 72 hours. They may return to normal activities if they test negative after this.
General practitioners are seeing more mild cases and putting them under Protocol 2, said Mr Ong.
Protocol 2 cases seen by GPs rose from about 400 to 500 cases a day last week, to more than 1,000 cases a day this week, he noted.
On the recommendation of the expert committee on COVID-19 vaccination, Singapore will extend its booster programme to those aged 12 to 17.
Earlier in January, MOH announced that from Feb 14, those aged 18 and above would have to take a booster shot within 270 days of completing their primary vaccination series to maintain their fully vaccinated status.
For those aged 12 to 17, this deadline will be set for Mar 14, said MOH.
“This will give them sufficient time to receive their booster dose. We urge our young to go for their booster vaccinations as soon as possible, once they are invited to do so five months after their last dose,” it added.