Singapore preparing to deal with ‘5,000 new Covid-19 cases a day or maybe more’, says finance minister

Yesterday, Singapore recorded 1,939 new Covid-19 cases, the highest so far since the outbreak began early last year.. — TODAY pic
Yesterday, Singapore recorded 1,939 new Covid-19 cases, the highest so far since the outbreak began early last year.. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Sept 27 — The Government is ramping up resources in order to prepare for the possibility of more than 5,000 new Covid-19 infections a day, of which about 10 per cent, or 500 people, may need to be warded for at least a week, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said today.

“We want to be able to deal with a scenario where cases surge up to 5,000 new cases a day, or maybe more,” Wong said.

The co-chair of the ministerial task force on Covid-19 was interviewed by Bloomberg Television and was responding to a question by anchor Haslinda Amin, who had asked what is needed for Singapore’s economic reopening to continue.

Explaining how the task force arrived at this parameter, Wong said that although 0.2 per cent of Covid-19 positive cases require treatment in intensive care units (ICU), around 50 times that number of infected cases require close monitoring in the hospital because they could be older, have serious symptoms or comorbidities.

“To provide timely care for the persons who need ICU treatment, the doctors need to admit about 10 per cent of infected persons to our hospitals because these are the ones that the doctors would triage and identify as the more vulnerable persons.”

Yesterday, Singapore recorded 1,939 new Covid-19 cases, the highest so far since the outbreak began early last year.

If Singapore reaches 5,000 cases daily, that would mean hospitals would need to take in 500 people who would need stays of at least a week, Wong said.

“That is a lot of hospital beds, and that is what we are trying to do, to augment our hospital system with medical centres, medical facilities. It is not just equipment, it is medical personnel as well. And we are trying to bring all of that on board so that the system as a whole is able to cope with a larger volume of cases,” he added.

Once healthcare protocols have stabilised, Singapore can then continue with its reopening plans, which would include overseas travel and easing of restrictions for the population here.

Wong said that “cases will continue to be high and the virus will continue to circulate” even when it reaches this stage.

“That is what living with Covid-19 means and that is what we are on the journey towards.”

His comments came on the day that tighter safe distancing measures under a new “stabilisation phase” took effect.

Announcing these measures last Friday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, a fellow task force co-chair, already spoke about the 5,000 daily cases figure, stating that Singapore would have to “dig very deep” to prepare for such a scenario.

Decision to tighten measures ‘not made lightly’

Wong said today that implementing the new restrictions was a “very difficult decision”, but it had to be done.

“We did not make it lightly. We knew that it would cause pain, frustration and anger among many people who have been looking forward to (Singapore’s) continued reopening. We understand that,” he said.

“But collectively, when we looked at the data and the evidence together with our medical experts, we just felt that there was a huge risk of the healthcare system becoming overwhelmed, and we have to protect the healthcare system,” Wong added.

When asked about the frustration felt by Singaporeans and foreigners and whether he was concerned that this could lead to dwindling trust in the leadership, Wong said that the Government is always concerned and it does not take the people’s trust for granted.

“We considered this very carefully, but we had no choice because this was a situation where there were, indeed, a lot of strains on the healthcare system,” he said.

“So, we seek everyone’s understanding, support and forbearance for the measures, and we hope everyone can rise in solidarity with our healthcare workers who are facing a lot of pressures, working flat out in the recent weeks to deal with the huge surge in cases.”

Wong added that the Government’s overall strategy has also not changed — it is still committed to reopening the economy and society progressively while “not putting too much stress on hospitals”.

The current official projection of 6 to 7 per cent economic growth for the whole of 2021 is achievable, he said, when asked if this forecast has been affected by the “stabilisation phase” measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.

“If there is an emergency scenario, and the economy starts to go back into a recession, there is no doubt we will look at making full use of our fiscal resources to help businesses and workers. But if we are able to continue with our reopening plans and the economy bounces back, then I think we should live within our means as much as possible.” — TODAY

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