'Living With Covid-19' Strategy Boon Or Bane? Singapore’s Daily Cases Exceed 1,000, First Time Since April 2020

by Bhaswati Guha Majumder - Sep 20, 2021 06:31 PM +05:30 IST
'Living With Covid-19' Strategy Boon Or Bane? Singapore’s Daily Cases Exceed 1,000, First Time Since April 2020  (Singapore/Unsplash)
  • In June, the Singaporean government came up with a new strategy - living with Covid-19 - through which citizens would be prepared to deal with the virus on a daily basis and people would be free to work, travel and shop.

    But now, for the first time since April 2020, Singapore has witnessed more than a thousand new Covid-19 cases.

Singapore has reported 1,009 new Covid-19 cases on 18 September and 1,012 cases the day after, according to data from the Ministry of Health. It is the first time since April 2020 the city-state witnessed more than 1,000 cases.

On the other hand, since the coronavirus pandemic began, just 60 people in Singapore have died due to Covid-19, and 82 per cent of the country's population has been fully vaccinated.

The southeast Asian country earlier stated that the government had prepared a new strategy—living with Covid-19. The government said in June that Singaporeans would be prepared to deal with SARS-CoV-2 on a daily basis, and residents would be free to work, travel, as well as shop without being subjected to quarantines or lockdowns, even if the novel virus is around.

During that month, when the Singapore government began the gradual easing of its coronavirus curbs, Covid-19 cases began to rise, and plans for reopening were postponed, as well as some restrictions, were reinstated. After months of relatively low numbers of daily new cases, over the weekend, it witnessed over 1,000 cases for continuously two days.

On 19 September, the hospital had 873 patients (up from 863 the previous day), with 118 serious cases requiring oxygen support (up from 105 the previous day) and 21 patients in critical condition in the intensive care unit (up from 18 the previous day). But on 17 September, Singapore’s Health Minister, Ong Ye Kung said that this outbreak was not foreseen, and it should be viewed as a "rite of passage" for any country seeking to survive the pandemic.

During a virtual press conference, he said: "We are on a path of transition to a new normal of living with Covid-19. It is a journey that is uncertain and full of twists and turns."

It was also reported that even though hospitals in Singapore are seeing a surge in patient numbers, most of them, over 98 per cent of people are asymptomatic or have developed mild symptoms.

So, in order to free up hospitals for urgent care, healthcare officials are advising people with mild symptoms or those who are asymptomatic to visit a general practitioner or clinic.

Additionally, now recovery at home has become the primary care management approach for completely vaccinated patients aged 12 to 69 without severe symptoms. Under this revised scheme which was introduced on 18 September, seven out of 10 patients are expected to be eligible for home recovery, which is intended to reduce the pressure on hospitals, intensive care units and the healthcare community's ability to cope with the pandemic.

While explaining the reason behind encouraging patients to recover at home, Ong said: “This is so that hospital beds, A&E services go to those who need it most. Our ICU capacity is still holding up, but it is A&E and general wards that are coming under pressure. Our hospitals and healthcare workers cannot be overburdened. At this point, this is MOH's biggest challenge and we are doing our best to solve this."

However, Dr Steven Tucker, an American-trained oncologist living and practising in Singapore since 2006, credits Singapore with improving programmes to help individuals manage mental health difficulties and Covid-induced stress, ranging from fear over personal safety to rent relief for food and beverage establishments forced to close due to lockdown orders.

Dr Tucker told Al Jazeera: “The stressors that are affecting everyone, as variable as they may be, are: ‘Am I going to get sick. Is my family member sick? Am I going to need to quarantine? Do I have access to care? All of this amounts to mental health stress that Singapore has responded very quickly to, acknowledged, and has made efforts to address.”

According to experts, the city-state has not yet reached an endemic state in which people can live along with the novel coronavirus. A family physician in Singapore, Dr Ong Eu Jin Roy believes that even though the virus poses a serious threat to the unvaccinated and vulnerable individuals, living with Covid-19 means that the many precautions that Singaporeans have taken, including mask-wearing, social distancing, working from home and limiting inbound visitors, all these are likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

He also added that booster doses, as well as daily or weekly rapid testing at work, would be a part of Singapore's current pandemic strategy until the virus is under control worldwide and loses its potency.

The fact that Singapore makes it difficult to do activities like going to public places and restaurants for dinner, without being completely vaccinated is one of the reasons behind the country's high vaccination rates. Jeannette Ickovics, a professor of public health and psychology at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, told Al Jazeera, with thorough testing, tracking, vaccines and broad adherence to directives from Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s government, the city-state has done “relatively well”.

According to her, since the global healthcare crisis endures with more infectious variants and limited global vaccine deployment, these practices and policies will remain in place for a while.

When talking about the government’s strategy of “living with Covid-19”, the expert asked people to “Go back to basics”—which includes washing hands, wearing masks, social distancing. Additionally, Ickovics said: “Try to streamline your work, evaluate and articulate what you need to get it done, and embrace flexibility.”

Eugene Tan, an associate professor of law at Singapore Management University, explained that “Singapore’s experience [severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS outbreak in 2003] has demonstrated the need for not just a whole-of-government but a whole-of-society approach to dealing with the pandemic”. In addition, he said: “While Singapore has benefitted from a cooperative citizenry, the use of technology for contact tracing has been critical too in keeping the pandemic under control.”

However, even though the vaccination rate in Singapore is among the world’s highest, it doesn’t mean that there is no vaccine hesitancy. PM Lee also recently urged people on social media to get the booster against Covid-19.

PM Lee shared a message on his social media account, after receiving his booster shot on 17 September, stating: "Cases are increasing rapidly. A booster jab will strengthen your protection against Covid-19."

While encouraging people to get the jab, he said: “Seniors who completed two doses at least six months ago will receive an SMS with a personalised link to book an appointment for a third dose. If you are offered a booster, please take it. It will reduce your chances of getting seriously ill, or needing ICU (intensive care unit) care.”

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