Economy

Singapore urges caution as rising cases may test ICU system

SINGAPORE’s leaders are closely watching the intensive care unit situation to make sure its hospital system won’t be overwhelmed, as reported coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) cases breached the 1,000 mark for a second consecutive day, cabinet ministers said.

The next one to two weeks “will be critical,” Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said in a Facebook post late Sunday. Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in a separate post that while ICU (intensive care unit) capacity is “still holding up,” accident and emergency departments and general wards in hospitals are coming “under pressure.” Both sit on the task force that handles the virus situation.

Singapore’s plan to shift away from a COVID-zero elimination strategy, toward living with endemic COVID, relies on limiting serious cases through mass vaccination. The current increase could test that strategy. The number of serious cases in ICU or in need of oxygen supplementation more than doubled to 139 as of Sunday, from 61 a week ago.

“There is no doubt that if our people had not come forward in big numbers to vaccinate ourselves, our healthcare system would have been overwhelmed by now,” Mr. Ong said.

Singapore’s public acute hospitals had more than 9,600 beds for in-patient care as of 2020. Among hospitals tracked by the health ministry, the beds occupancy rate ranged between 76% and 88% as of Sept. 11.

Singapore’s vaccination rate of 82% is among the highest in the world according to data compiled by Bloomberg. About 0.2% of infected cases here are at risk of needing ICU care, Mr. Wong said, citing data from the Ministry of Health. While that’s far lower than many western nations that have opened up faster than Singapore, government leaders say they need to ensure ICU cases don’t spike alongside rising overall cases.

“Some have told me that based on our high vaccine coverage, and the current ICU figure… we don’t have to worry,” Mr. Wong said. “But in fact, the ICU numbers can change very quickly and we cannot afford to be complacent.”

Mr. Ong said in July that Singapore can open up to about 1,000 ICU beds if needed for critically ill COVID-19 patients.

The city state has 873 patients currently warded in hospitals, 118 of which are serious illness requiring oxygen supplementation, and 21 are in the ICU, according to a statement from the ministry. At its peak, early in the pandemic, Singapore had as many as 32 ICU Covid patients.

Of the 1,009 new cases of locally transmitted infections on Sept. 19, 321 were seniors above 60 years old. Those 18 or below made up 88 cases.

Singapore has urged younger vaccinated people to recover at home. More community care facilities will be set up to provide clinical care to patients with mild symptoms or who have underlying conditions that require a closer monitoring, the health ministry said in a separate statement.

“Our hospitals and healthcare workers cannot be overburdened,” Mr. Ong said, adding that it’s currently the Ministry of Health’s “biggest challenge and we are doing our best to solve this.” — Bloomberg

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