Ong Ye Kung: Restrictions to tighten if hospitals cannot cope, lockdown in S'pore a 'last resort'

The health minister also addressed some other questions on the current tightened measures.

Lean Jinghui | September 24, 2021, 10:34 AM

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With the daily number of Covid-19 community cases breaking the 1,000 mark as of Sep. 18, health minister Ong Ye Kung took to an interview with Chinese Daily Lianhe Zaobao, to dispel any concerns the elderly might have regarding the ongoing Covid-19 situation.

Here's what he said.

Why are we not imposing another round of circuit breaker?

To have another circuit breaker will be our "last resort", said Ong, in the interview published on Sep. 22.

This was in response to a question by an elderly man – about whether Singapore should put in place another round of Circuit Breaker so that things will be "fine" after three weeks.

In response, Ong said that the Government is closely monitoring hospital capacity, and will consider whether to implement tighter restrictions based on two conditions:

"The first, is the number of cases of serious illness, and whether our ICUs have sufficient capacity to cope. Secondly, whether we have sufficient beds for all those who have been infected with Covid-19 and wish to go to a hospital or to a Community Care Facility (CCF)."

If these two conditions are satisfactory, explained Ong, then Singapore can continue to carefully ride through the current "wave" of infection.

If not, tighter restrictions will be necessary.

What about "mini-restrictions" to bring numbers down?

Another resident then posed a question on whether "mini-restrictions" are needed to bring numbers down.

Ong replied that it remains too early to tell whether the Covid-19 virus will become seasonal like the common flu, pointing to what Leo Yee-Sin, Executive Director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) had previously said.

He went on to explain that the meaning of co-existing with the virus is not that we should fear it and thus implement lockdowns.

"This is not to co-exist with Covid-19, but to be defeated by it".

Neither is it to lift all our restrictions freely, added Ong, and treat the virus with nonchalance.

Instead, Ong reiterated that the way forward is to take the "middle ground", and that everyone will need to adapt quickly in order to achieve this new "balance" and successfully co-coexist with the disease.

Did we underestimate the transmissibility of the Delta variant?

Ong then answered a question posed by a Zaobao reporter, which questioned if Singapore had "underestimated" the transmissibility of the Delta variant and "overestimated" the protection offered by Covid-19 vaccines.

In response, Ong pointed out that Singapore still has not totally lifted all restrictions, and many tightened measures are still in place.

He added that this was why the government had planned for a preparatory phase, to review if Singapore can handle "maybe 100-200 cases" a day, before slowly opening further.

However, Ong said that the Delta variant "waits for no one", pointing out that it has indeed taken the world by storm.

Why do we allow so many people on public transport? Is it not dangerous?

In response to concerns over crowds on public transport, Ong explained that there has not been evidence pointing to Covid-19 transmission on public transport, amongst reported Covid-19 cases so far.

Trains and buses are also very well-ventilated, he added.

He urged Singaporeans to continue wearing their masks, and to minimise talking while on public transport, so that taking public transport remains safe for everyone.

What about announcing where Covid-19 cases were infected or have visited?

On June 29 this year, the health ministry announced that they will no longer be disclosing individual case details of every Covid-19 patient. This includes information on their age, occupation and places they visited within the community.

In September, the ministry announced yet a revamp of its daily updates, with a focus on the number of cases hospitalised with severe illness, and large emerging clusters.

Ong said that sometimes, by the time contact tracers have discovered a large cluster, it can be "a bit late", with tens of cases found to be linked to it.

He reiterated that the government is doing their best to share this information as soon as it's available, after contact tracers have carried out the necessary operations.

Why does the elderly need to register for a Covid-19 booster?

In response to a question about whether walk-ins' for booster shots might also be possible for the elderly, Ong also shared that the current registration system is only "temporary".

He added that 140,000 invitation messages have been sent out to the elderly to come forward for their booster shots.

The current booking system is meant to help avoid overcrowding at vaccination sites and to prevent the risk of Covid-19 transmission at these sites.

Once more elderly persons have received their booster shots and there is less chance of crowding, alternative modes of registration should be made available, Ong added. This includes walk-ins for booster jabs.

Advisory for elderly who have taken booster jabs

Ong went on to urge the elderly to continue implementing necessary lifestyle changes, even after taking the Covid-19 booster jab.

This includes still continuing to wear one's mask, and to minimise going out and having social gatherings with others whenever possible.

"It's not to say that you can't go out, but that it's important to do so restrictively, especially for mask-off activities like dining in, where the risk of transmission is higher."

When asked how him and his family have adapted work and lifestyle habits in lieu of the ongoing Covid-19 situation, Ong shared that he continues to frequently remind the elderly folks in his family of the importance of various precautionary measures – from taking both doses of the Covid-19 vaccines, to "playing mahjong" less frequently and to go out less with friends.

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Top screenshot via Lianhe Zaobao Facebook