Health Minister Ong Ye Kung sends letter assuring healthcare workers SAF stepping in to fill manpower shortages

Boost morale and lift spirits of those battered at the frontlines.

Belmont Lay | February 23, 2022, 02:15 AM

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Health Minister Ong Ye Kung has penned a letter to healthcare workers in public hospitals and polyclinics on Monday, Feb. 21, in a bid to boost morale and lift spirits of those battered at the frontlines.

Letter comes in wake of Omicron surge

His missive comes in the wake of a surge in Omicron cases in Singapore that threaten to overwhelm the public healthcare system and further tax nurses and doctors who have worked relentlessly at the frontlines for more than two years.

His note, which addressed healthcare workers as "colleagues", sought to reassure them that the government is instituting measures to lighten their burden.

Measures to lighten burden

These measures, a reiteration of measures announced previously, include pushing out public messages to encourage those with mild symptoms to recover at home, and for employers to not require medical certificates from workers infected with Covid-19.

He added that a vaccinated travel lane (VTL) with the Philippines will start soon, and the VTL quota with India will be restored to give foreign healthcare workers the change to travel home to meet their families.

Those who come back will not have to serve quarantine when they return to Singapore.

A significant proportion of healthcare workers in Singapore are from these two countries.

SAF will step in

With manpower shortages likely, Ong said the Singapore Armed Forces has agreed to step in to support hospitals with the heaviest patient loads by providing trained medics.

He added that the healthcare volunteer corps is also being mobilised to fill vacancies.

Why safe management measures gradually loosened

In his letter, Ong also anticipated nagging queries and preemptively addressed concerns about why safe management measures were being streamlined when the Omicron variant is spreading at the same time.

He said "micro rules" do not make a difference to the pandemic -- referring to the Omicron wave as a "force of nature" -- and the focus for the public should be on the measures that can still help flatten the transmission wave, such as group sizes, masking and vaccination-differentiated measures.

Ong ended his letter with a plea to hang on for a while longer, as Singapore, like other countries -- barring unforeseen circumstances -- will see cases fall rapidly in a few weeks.

You can read his full letter below:

Dear colleagues

You are probably receiving this message while inundated with a heavy workload, due to the high number of daily Omicron cases.

I want to let you know that the Ministry of Health and your management will continue to do our best to support you, to pull through this difficult period, just as we ensured you have priority to vaccines and boosters, spread out cases by leverage Covid-19 Treatment Facilities and General Practitioners, and implemented the difficult no visitors policy. We will continue to do whatever we can.

To help further reduce patient loads, in the coming days, we will push out public messages to encourage those with mild symptoms to recover from home, and for employers to not require medical certificates (MCs) from workers infected with Covid-19. At the request of the Healthcare Services Employees Union, sick leave of healthcare workers can be recorded as hospitalisation leave during this period. For our foreign colleagues, we will also be starting a Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) with the Philippines soon, and restoring the VTL quota with India.

To address manpower shortages, we are mobilising our healthcare volunteer corps and have also reached out to the Singapore Armed Forces, who has kindly agreed to support us with trained medics, for hospitals facing the heaviest patient loads. We are deeply appreciative of the SAF.

For our healthcare workers, whether Delta or Omicron, I know your workload has been heavy. But MOH and the Multi-Ministry Taskforce will also need to continue to explain to the public that Omicron is less severe than Delta because from the public's point of view, they need to know that Omicron poses less of a risk. That way, they can respond to the infection wave calmly, recovering from home when their symptoms are mild, instead of rushing to the hospitals.

Some of you may also wonder why we are streamlining the safe management measures now. So long as we hope to regain our normal lives, we will have to deal with an Omicron transmission wave. It is a force of nature, and the micro rules really do no make a difference to the pandemic at this stage. Instead, we want to focus the public on the key measures that can still help flatten the transmission wave, namely group sizes, masking, and vaccinated-differentiated measures. That is why we have not made any changes to these rules. For the rest, we should streamline them.

The pandemic has been going on for over two years now. Like you we want to see the pandemic pass. If Singapore is like other countries, we should see cases fall -- even rapidly -- in the coming few weeks. With each day our society becomes stronger and we move closer to normalcy. So hang in there for a while more. It is no longer light at the end of tunnel, but barring unforeseen circumstances, it is something within our grasp.

Please convey our thanks to your family members and loved ones too, for supporting you through these difficult times. Take care, and thank you.

Ong Ke Kung

Minister for Health

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