With the everchanging COVID-19 situation, we have to adapt quickly as well.
Today, the multi-ministry task force held a press conference regarding the new measures that will be taken to cope with the recent changes in the COVID-19 situation.
Here’s what you need to know.
Increase in Omicron Cases
With a sharp increase in the Omicron variant of the virus, Singapore may be expecting a surge in cases. This is especially so due to the more infectious nature of the variant.
As of Thursday, 20 January, the weekly COVID-19 infection growth rate stood at 2.17, and 1,001 Omicron cases were confirmed. There were 952 local and 49 imported cases.
In the coming days, the number of cases may double every two to three days and daily cases may reach 15,000 or even more.
“If we all continue to exercise personal and social responsibility, and we continue to do our part, we will be able to ride through this Omicron wave safely. And then we can look forward to our next round of measures towards our continued journey of becoming a Covid-19 resilient nation,” Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said.
However, studies by the National Centre of Infectious Diseases (NCID) have shown that individuals with the Omicron virus carry a lower viral load despite the variant being more infectious.
Indeed, although the Omicron variant is said to be less severe than the Delta variant, there still is plenty of reason for us to stay safe and prevent the spread of the virus.
Change in Healthcare Facility Regulations
As the increase in cases will inevitably cause strain to our healthcare system, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has also rolled out various measures that will take place for about a month, starting on 24 January and ending on 20 February (both dates inclusive).
The measures include suspending all in-person visits to hospital wards and residential care homes, as these environments often involve vulnerable persons who are particularly susceptible to the virus.
During this time, hospitals and homes will continue to aid the relevant parties through various forms of telecommunication, such as allowing family members to call or video call their loved ones.
Expansion of Age Bracket for Protocol 2
Apart from the suspended visits, the healthcare system will also expand the age bracket for Protocol 2 to include children aged 5 to 11-years old, regardless of their vaccination status.
Protocol 2 will require individuals to be assessed by a doctor to confirm that their symptoms are mild, and they are not at risk of developing severe symptoms. Thereafter, they will take an ART test after a 72-hour isolation period.
If they test negative, they can resume usual activities. If not, they will have to continue to self-test and self-isolate daily until they obtain a negative ART test, or until the tenth or fourteenth day (for vaccinated or unvaccinated individuals respectively), whichever is earlier.
Medical Certificates of five days will be issued, and those who still feel unwell afterwards should seek medical help. Health Risk Warnings (HRW) will also be issued to family members and those who have been in close contact with the individual.
“We urge those with non-emergency conditions, including children, to avoid seeking treatment at hospitals and to consult their primary care doctor instead,” MOH encouraged.
Booster Shots for Teenagers
From 14 March onwards, all youths from the age of 12-17-years old will have to undergo their booster shot within 270 days of completing their primary vaccination series to be considered fully vaccinated. The date is exactly one month after the measures apply to those 18 and older.
As those under 18 are not eligible for Moderna vaccines, they will be automatically eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty booster shot instead.
Those who are not eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty booster shot will be offered the Sinovac-Coronavac booster shot under a dedicated health programme instead. MOH will be contacting those eligible for the programme with instructions.
Adolescents eligible for the vaccine will have to book their appointments through the personalised booking link sent to their parent/guardian and bring along identification during their appointment for verification purposes.
Those 13 and older will not need their parent/guardian’s company to take the vaccine, but 12-year-olds, as well as students in Special Education (SPED) schools, will require a parent/guardian to be present for the appointment. MOH will be sharing more details with SPED schools and the relevant parents/guardians.
The booster shot is said to have the same side effects and safety concerns as the first two primary doses of the vaccine.
The Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination (EC19V) recommends that adolescents take their booster shot at least five months after their second dose of the vaccine and that they register for the booster shot as soon as it is available to them.
Additionally, although it is not necessary for recovered patients of COVID-19 to undergo booster shots, they can still book an appointment at least five months after their last dose of the vaccine. It is safe for such individuals to take the booster shot.
No Changes to Current Gathering Limits for Chinese New Year (CNY) Celebrations
With the long-awaited holiday coming up, there will, unfortunately, be no relaxed measures for the upcoming CNY holidays. This is largely due to the rise in Omicron cases.
As per previous regulations, each household is still permitted to only have five visitors at one time. Visitors are also encouraged to take an ART test before visiting, especially if vulnerable or unvaccinated persons will be present.
For those who are dining out, do take note that restaurants are also not allowed to accept bookings of multiple tables of five unless all patrons belong to the same household.
Large-scale events, including religious processions or dinner banquets such as company-organised meals and traditional events such as tuanbai will continue to be disallowed. This is to prevent the possibility of superspreading events.
Although it may come as a disappointment to many, it’s ultimately more important to make sure that everyone is safe. “I know that many of us are hoping for relaxation in SMMs as we approach the Chinese New Year. However, it is important that we continue with our existing SMMs to help prevent overloading our healthcare system,” Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong explained.
Reduction in Isolation Period
For fully vaccinated people, as well as children under the age of 12 who are unwell and have tested positive for COVID-19, the isolation period will be shortened from ten to seven days.
This applies to those who fall under Protocol 1 and 2, which includes both high-risk individuals, those with significant symptoms as well as low-risk individuals with mild symptoms.
This is so that hospital capacity can be maximised to cope with the incoming Omicron wave, and is also because those infected with the Omicron variant tend to “generally recover faster” as said by Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.
There is however no change to the isolation period for unvaccinated individuals, and they will still be required to undergo two weeks of isolation.
Vaccinated Travelling Lanes (VTL) Testing Regimes
According to MOH, after 23 January 2022, 11.59 pm, “VTL travellers entering Singapore via both air and land checkpoints will only be required to do unsupervised self-administered ART tests from Day 2 to Day 7 of their arrivals if they need to leave their place of residence or accommodation.”
This is different from the current measures, which requires VTL travellers entering Singapore to “do unsupervised self-administered ART on Days 2, 4, 5 and 6 with submission of results online, as well as supervised ART on Days 3 and 7 from their arrival”.
Those who test ART positive will also no longer need to undergo a confirmatory PCR test but will be required to recover under Protocol 2. However, if individuals feel that they are potentially at risk, such as if they have specific pre-existing health conditions, they are still highly encouraged to seek medical attention even if they feel well.
The measures will also be adjusted accordingly based on both the local and global COVID-19 situation.
For more information regarding the new COVID-19 measures, please access MOH’s website here for updates.
Watch the press conference in full here:
In the meantime, do remember to stay safe and continue being socially responsible! Everyone has a part to play, and we can all do our best to curb the spread of the virus together.
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Featured Image: Youtube (CNA)
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