SINGAPORE, Sept 7 — In a bid to slow down the surge in locally transmitted Covid-19 infections, the Ministry of Health announced yesterday (September 6) that it will be requiring more people to undergo testing for Covid-19.
This includes sending out health risk warnings and health risk alerts to more people, increasing the frequency of workers getting tested under the rostered routine testing and giving out test kits to companies so that their employees would be tested weekly over a two-month period.
MoH said in a press statement that the issuing of health risk warnings and health risk alerts to more individuals are not new, but it would help cast a wider net around the cases and contain the clusters quickly once they have been identified.
This would be in addition to the current measure of quarantining the close contacts of Covid-19 cases.
MoH said that individuals who received a health risk warning are required by law to get a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test done and self-isolate until their test comes back negative.
They also need to do antigen rapid tests after that, and another PCR test on the 14th day.
As for people who receive a health risk alert, they are strongly encouraged to go for a PCR test as soon as possible though they are not required to do so.
People who receive either the health risk warning or health risk alert are not required to be quarantined, but they should reduce their interactions for 14 days, MoH said.
More frequent testing
From September 13, workers in high-risk settings such as those in food and beverage, gym and fitness studios and personal care services would be required to undergo mandatory testing once a week. They are already required to go for regular testing but it is now just once every two weeks.
MoH said that this increased frequency will allow authorities to detect and ring-fence cases more quickly.
“This is particularly important given the infectiousness of the Delta variant as observed locally, where there have been shorter periods between each generation of infection,” MoH said.
Besides workers in the above sectors, those working at retail malls and supermarkets, couriers delivering to consumers including food delivery workers, taxi and private-hire car drivers and all public transport front-line staff members will also have to be part of this testing regime.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong who is co-chair of the national Covid-19 task force said that the authorities intend to expand mandatory tests to these settings, but not from Sept 13 onwards for these groups.
This is because the implementation of these measures as well as the timeline to “on-board” companies onto this testing programme are still being worked out and Sept 13 would be “a little too fast”, he added.
As for schools, the authorities are looking at rolling out regular tests “across the entire school setting” as well.
“If you are in your teens and in institutes of higher learning, it is not a problem. But for younger children, there is the issue of whether the nose swab can go all the way in and if they are able to do it properly and administer these tests,” Wong said.
The authorities are thus studying if there are other methods of sample collection that could be more convenient and accessible for preschools and primary schools.
MoH said that the government will subsidise the costs of all tests under this enhanced surveillance regime, for both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, until the end of this year.
Besides companies in these sectors, the authorities will also be distributing antigen rapid test kits to other companies to step up regular testing, especially for people who are working on-site.
Each company will be receiving eight antigen rapid test kits for each employee, so that they would be able to test themselves weekly over a two-month period.
“With these kits, we expect all companies to initiate weekly testing for their on-site staff. These tests can be administered by the individuals themselves at home or at the work premises,” MOH said.
It added that employers need to ensure that the tests are done properly and report the results to the relevant government agencies.
“We hope that the distribution of antigen rapid test kits to both households and companies will help to instil a culture of responsibility in administering regular self-tests. This will become an important tool in the new normal, so that we can dampen the impact of Covid-19 without having to impose heightened alerts,” the ministry said.
Besides regular testing, MoH encouraged residents to be socially responsible and visit a doctor, self-isolate and not report for work if feeling unwell.
Stemming the exponential spread
MoH said that these quick actions need to be taken to lower the increasing likelihood of an exponential increase in cases.
It is also to buy some time to get more people vaccinated, especially the seniors, and to roll out booster shots for those 60 and above.
The number of new infection cases in the community has almost doubled to more than 1,200 cases last week, compared to around 600 cases in the week before.
“If the infection continues at this trajectory, we will see a doubling of cases every week. This means that we can expect to see more individuals suffer serious consequences due to Covid-19 infection,” MoH said.
While the number of severe illnesses and deaths remain low due to Singapore’s high vaccination rate, unvaccinated individuals remain susceptible to the coronavirus.
Over the last 28 days, 6.7 per cent of unvaccinated cases fell severely ill or died.
Apart from the unvaccinated cases who fall seriously ill, a small proportion of fully vaccinated persons will also require intensive medical care due to severe illness.
Wong said: “If you have a very high infection caseload, that small proportion will translate to a sizable number of intensive care unit cases and, eventually, fatalities.”
Last Friday, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at MOH, said that the percentage of people who are fully vaccinated but then became ill was 1.3 per cent over the past 28 days.
Wong said yesterday that this is why the government needs to slow down the exponential transmission rate of the virus now, through the use of aggressive testing and contact tracing, so as to “buy time” for the roll-out of the booster shots for seniors. ― TODAY