Frustration mounts over handling of Covid-19 quarantine orders; Singapore MOH apologises, says backlog mostly cleared

In response to TODAY’s queries, the MOH said on Monday that fishery port, karaoke lounges and other smaller clusters resulted in the number of quarantined individuals increasing by ‘many fold’. — TODAY file pic
In response to TODAY’s queries, the MOH said on Monday that fishery port, karaoke lounges and other smaller clusters resulted in the number of quarantined individuals increasing by ‘many fold’. — TODAY file pic

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SINGAPORE, Aug 3 — Despite testing negative for Covid-19 during a mandatory testing operation for those linked to Jurong Fishery Port, Chng, a fishmonger was informed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) three days later that he would need to be quarantined.

The 57-year-old, who declined to give his full name, said he was told by authorities on July 21 that the man who had been in line behind him during the testing operation, was found to be infected with the coronavirus.

MOH, he said, told him to isolate himself at home while arrangements were being made to take him to a dedicated quarantine facility.

He requested that they transfer him as soon as possible as he did not want to risk infecting his family, especially his octogenarian mother.

Chng said that MOH assured him he would be picked up by July 24 at the latest but it was only four days from when he was informed — on July 25 — that he was escorted to a hotel to be quarantined.

“The whole process is so complicated and messy and my family was stuck at home with me,” said Chng.

Similar complaints like Chng’s about delays and confusion related to the quarantine process have surfaced in recent weeks, amid a spike in cases linked to the fishery port and karaoke lounges.

Lack of communication, conflicting information

Other individuals TODAY spoke to said they were left frustrated by the quarantine order process as there was poor communication by the authorities and in some cases were given conflicting information.

A man in his late 20s, who declined to be named as his profession prohibits him from speaking to the media, told TODAY that he had gone to a clinic in Ang Mo Kio for a swab test on July 22.

He was then told on July 26 that he had been potentially exposed to an infected individual and would have to be quarantined in a hotel till Aug 5.

He was also told that transport would be arranged to the hotel, but a day later, no vehicle had arrived.

To find out what was going on, he called the MOH Certis hotline repeatedly but could not get through to any officers manning the hotline.

“I was quite anxious, because everything was unknown to me,” said the man who decided to self-isolate at home with his mother and younger brother.

It was only on Monday, a week after he got the first phone call, that the authorities visited him to assess if his home was suitable for serving out the rest of his quarantine order, before handing him a quarantine order and telling him to complete it at home.

He said the officers who visited him told him that they were “overwhelmed” with the number of people who needed to undergo quarantine orders.

Other individuals TODAY spoke to related their experience of receiving conflicting information from the authorities.

A cafe manager, who wanted to be known only as Nora, said she and her husband had been on a home quarantine order but were told at 2am last Friday, 12 days into her quarantine, that their final swab test results were negative and they could end their isolation at noon.

But just 15 hours later, she received a text message from MOH on her mobile phone notifying her that her isolation had been extended by another two days.

“My boss was asking me, ‘So are you coming back to work or not?’” she said.

Nora said she was able to speak to someone through the hotline on Saturday morning, and was told there could have been a “technical issue” and that the authorities would get back to her later.

Fourteen hours of being told her isolation would be extended, she received another text from MOH rescinding her quarantine order.

Meanwhile, another fishmonger from the Jurong Fishery Port, who wanted to be known only as Lim, said he has been left confused by MOH’s instructions for his worker.

Two weeks ago, MOH informed one of his employees that he would have to be quarantined.

The Chinese national then self-isolated in a hotel room for 14 days but did not receive any further instructions from MOH if he could end his quarantine despite the authorities saying they would “get back to him”.

“So my worker asked me, ‘What should I do?’ I told him to just go home,” said Lim, 40.

‘Backlog cleared’

In response to TODAY’s queries, the MOH said yesterday that fishery port, karaoke lounges and other smaller clusters resulted in the number of quarantined individuals increasing by “many fold”.

MOH added that the surge has led to “slower conveyance to government quarantine facilities and communications gaps for some persons under quarantine”.

“We apologise to these individuals and their families for delays and lapses. Our operations staff have been working very hard, the Ministry of Health has since ramped up our quarantine operations to handle the increased load,” it said.

Yesterday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said the average time between a person being exposed to an infected person and being served a quarantine order has lengthened from one-and-a-half days to two days due to the volume of cases of late.

Data from the ministry’s latest Covid-19 situation report showed that in the past two weeks, over 2,200 people were issued quarantine orders every day on average — more than twice the 900-odd daily average from two weeks prior.

As of yesterday, about 7,400 people were under quarantine at a government quarantine facility and more than 10,200 were serving quarantine at home.

Nevertheless, MOH said it was able to clear “most of the backlog” over the weekend, and it expects the situation to settle down.

“With Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), we are also finding that the number of contacts per infected persons has come down,” said MOH.

The ministry added that with more of the population being fully vaccinated, more individuals are able to serve home quarantine if their homes are suitable, which will reduce the need for conveyancing to a quarantine facility. — TODAY

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