SINGAPORE, Jan 11 — Two-thirds of patients admitted into intensive care units (ICUs) following the surge of infections from the Delta coronavirus strain last year were unvaccinated or partially unvaccinated against Covid-19, Rahayu Mahzam said.

The Parliamentary Secretary for the Ministry of Health (MoH) said yesterday that this put great pressure on the healthcare system at the peak of the Delta wave here between October and November last year.

“They’re also more likely to be administered therapeutics, which are not cheap. So although (they are) a small proportion of our population, they take up a disproportionate amount of medical and hospital resources and contribute to a significant amount of the workload of our hospital staff.”

Rahayu was responding to Hazel Poa, a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament from the Progress Singapore Party, who filed an adjournment motion and questioned the need for infection controls tied to people’s vaccination status, which limit the activities and movements of unvaccinated persons.

The authorities announced last month that only employees who are fully vaccinated, certified to be medically ineligible or have recovered from Covid-19 within 180 days can return to the workplace from Jan 15.

Unvaccinated or partially vaccinated employees will not be allowed to return even with a negative Covid-19 test result.

Rahayu said on Monday that with access to premises, activities and events being brought under the VDS framework, the hope was that this would also encourage the unvaccinated to get their jabs.

The Ministry of Manpower said last month that about 52,000 employees in Singapore were still not immunised, though only a small proportion of these employees are medically ineligible for vaccination.

Poa argued that although unvaccinated people are more prone to serious illness, attributing to the high number of unvaccinated cases in the ICU or death in 2021, they should be allowed to choose as they bear the brunt of their decision to not be vaccinated.

“What is the justification for preventing the unvaccinated from returning to their workplace? It is not for fear of infecting others because vaccination does not stop the transmission of Covid-19. The risk is therefore mainly to themselves, not others,” she said.

“They must have strong reasons, based on their own individual circumstances and personal medical history, for sticking to their decision not to vaccinate... This latest measure that threatens their livelihood would just place them between a rock and a hard place.”

Poa added that the ban on unvaccinated persons returning to the workplace and risking their livelihoods is “too harsh” even though the Government has asserted that every effort will be made to enable them to work from home.

“This is not always practical for every job affected. The new measure is essentially a licence to terminate.”

Why targeted restrictions are needed

Rahayu said the recent months have shown that vaccine-related controls have enabled Singapore to reopen safely and in a calibrated manner while minimising the risk of hospital admissions to preserve healthcare capacity.

“We eased (these measures) for those who are fully vaccinated, rather than hold everyone back in order to reduce risk to the unvaccinated. Fully vaccinated persons have good protection against the virus and are at lower risk of becoming dangerously ill if infected with Covid-19.

“Unvaccinated individuals, on the other hand, need to be more prudent in interacting with larger groups of people especially in mask-off settings, which are higher risk. Hence, the strict measures will continue to apply to them,” she said.

And with the prospect of another surge of cases due to the Omicron variant, Singapore needs to decide what to do next — whether to tighten all safety regulations or calibrate them to tighten restrictions for those who are more likely to strain the healthcare system.

The first choice would affect the lives and livelihoods of both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, Rahayu said.

This is the rationale behind the tightening of restrictions on unvaccinated workers, she added.

She noted that as of January 2, 48,000 workers were unvaccinated compared with the 52,000 on Dec 19. Of those who have not received a vaccine, the largest group comprised 16,000 people aged 30 to 39.

Poa on Monday also urged the Government to give its assurance that the infection controls will not be extended to children for at least a year, to give parents time to digest new information, monitor developments and wait for more vaccine options to become available.

Rahayu reiterated that the Ministry of Health has no plans to implement vaccine-related policies for children aged 12 and under.

“The focus at this time is to ensure our children are well-protected as we begin vaccination for those aged five to 11 years using the paediatric doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Comirnaty Covid-19 vaccine,” she said.

“We will periodically review our policies as the extension of the national Covid-19 vaccination programme to children aged five to 11 progresses.” — TODAY