If it seems as if everyone around you is down with COVID-19, you’re not mistaken.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) reported a rise in COVID-19 hospitalisations and intensive care unit (ICU) cases amid the increase in infections.
MOH cited the year-end travel and festive season as possible reasons for the rise in cases.
COVID-19 Hospitalisations and ICU Cases Increase
On 8 December, MOH noted that the estimated number of COVID-19 cases from 26 November to 2 December rose to 32,034.
The previous week had an estimated number of 22,094 COVID-19 cases.
The average number of daily COVID-19 hospitalisations also increased from 136 to 225.
Furthermore, the average daily ICU cases increased to four.
The previous week saw one daily ICU case.
While these statistics sound scary, it isn’t all bad.
Compared to the pandemic, the numbers of hospitalisations and ICU cases we see right now are not as high.
However, MOH said, “This has added workload to our hospitals, which are already busy.”
MOH is closely tracking the current wave of infections to ensure its healthcare capacity can cope.
Cases infected by COVID-19 variant JN.1, a sublineage of BA.2.86, currently account for more than 60% of COVID-19 cases in Singapore.
Notably, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified BA.2.86 and its sublineages as a variant of interest since 21 November.
However, there are currently no indications that JN.1 or BA.2.86 is more transmissible or causes more severe disease than other COVID-19 variants.
MOH urged the public to seek medical treatment at emergency departments only for severe or life-threatening emergencies.
This would preserve its hospital capacity for those who need acute hospital care.
Reasons for New Wave
There are a few reasons behind the new wave of COVID-19 infections.
MOH said such reasons include waning population immunity and increased travel and community interactions due to the year-end travel and festive season.
MOH’s health advisory recommends travellers to visit their doctor four to six weeks before a trip for a health risk assessment.
Advice on required vaccinations is included in the assessment.
MOH also advised that good personal hygiene should always be observed.
Travellers are also encouraged to avoid close contact with those who are unwell or have symptoms of infectious diseases.
When returning to Singapore, travellers who feel unwell or develop respiratory symptoms like cough or runny nose should wear a mask and seek medical attention.
They should also inform their doctor of their travel history.
Mask-up and Stay Up to Date with Vaccinations
MOH also advised everyone to keep up to date with their COVID-19 vaccinations as it remains effective in protecting one against severe disease.
If you weren’t aware, it is recommended for those 60 and above, medically vulnerable persons, and aged care facility residents to get an additional vaccine dose around one year after their last dose.
MOH also encouraged all people aged six months and above to receive the additional dose.
This recommendation especially applies to healthcare workers and household members or caregivers of those who are medically vulnerable.
Notably, the updated COVID-19 monovalent Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty and Moderna/Spikevax vaccines have been available at MOH’s joint testing and vaccination centres, participating Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPC) and selected polyclinics since November 2023.
They continue to be free of charge.
You can click here to find out more about the location of these sites and the vaccines they offer.
MOH also encouraged the public to exercise precaution and social responsibility.
By that, it means staying at home when feeling unwell.
MOH recommended the public to consider wearing a mask in crowded, not well-ventilated places.
Some Shops Have Run Out of ART Kits
If you’ve been kiasu to stock up on ART kits due to the current wave of infections, you may have found it difficult to find any in stores.
The Straits Times reported that many pharmacies and stores have run out of ART kits due to the current wave of infections.
The FairPrice Group, which oversees FairPrice supermarkets and Unity pharmacies, reported a significant rise in the demand for ART kits from October to November 2023.
The group is collaborating with suppliers to ensure enough ART kits are available for customers’ needs.
Guardian also noticed increased demand for ART kits and assured customers that the pharmacy chain will be regularly restocking the product.
Another Reason for the Increase in Cases
Besides the reasons that MOH cited for the current COVID-19 wave, there’s also another likely reason for the increase in cases.
Speaking to Shin Min Daily News, a doctor from Shalom Medical Group noted that there has been an increase in respiratory illnesses due to the recent weather.
Fortunately, most patients only experience mild symptoms.
About 20% to 30% of these patients tested positive for COVID-19.
On 6 December, another doctor from Chua Medical noted that his clinic had run out of Paxlovoid and that he was rushing to restock his supplies.
Paxlovoid is a medication that aids those aged 50 and over who are at risk of suffering severe disease due to COVID-19.
WHO Keeping a Close Watch on BA.2.86
Notably, Singapore isn’t the only country with a spike in COVID-19 cases caused by variants BA.2.86 and JN.1.
BA.2.86 first appeared in the USA in August 2023 and is currently the third most common variant.
When BA.2.86 first appeared, researchers were concerned as it had more than 30 mutations to its spike proteins, making it genetically distinct from its predecessors.
In layperson’s terms, researchers feared that BA.2.86’s genetic distinction would allow it to slip past the immunity of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Fortunately, studies show that the current vaccine offers enough protection against the variant.
Studies also showed that BA.2.86 lost some of COVID-19’s ability to infect cells due to its new mutations.
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