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Opening Remarks by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister For Health, at COVID-19 Multi-Ministry Taskforce Doorstop Interview on 20 October 2021

·      We have made progress in our transition to living with COVID-19, but there is still some way to go.


·      There are positives and there are negatives. Let me highlight them. On the positive side:


o   First, the cases have stabilised for the last two weeks.


§  Yesterday we had the usual post-weekend spike, so we had about 3,500 local community cases. Today’s numbers are being finalised, but appear to have moderated, but still slightly above 3,000 local community cases. So, we have to monitor the trend over the next few days to understand the trajectory of the transmission.


§  The important thing is: It is no longer doubling every few days like what we have seen in late September and early October.


§  But the top line of infection numbers is actually less important.  What is critical is how the top line translates into the bottomline of how many patients fall seriously ill and need hospital or ICU care, or die.


o   That leads me to the second positive, which is that there is now a higher percentage of infected persons with no symptoms or mild symptoms.


§  This percentage used to be 98%. It has now risen progressively, and over the past 28 days, the percentage is now 98.6%. The remaining 1.1% need O2 supplementation, 0.1% need ICU care.


§  So a smaller percentage of patients are becoming severely ill. And that is a positive trend.


o   Third, amongst seniors 60 and above who are vaccinated, the number getting infected has been falling.


§  At its peak in early October, 1,000 vaccinated seniors were infected in a day.


§  Yesterday, this has fallen to 279.


§  We think this is a combination of a few factors. One, seniors are cutting back on their social activities. Second, which I think is a major factor, is because of the boosters they have been receiving, which is fobbing off infections.


·      On the negative side:


o   First, there is still no sign of cases falling. This will take time.  As more people get boosted, as individuals who are vaccinated catch the virus and experience only mild flu-like symptoms, the antibodies and the immunity in our society will build up over time.


§  When that happens, we will see cases falling and we can open up social and economic activities without cases rising rapidly.


§  And then, we would have achieved a new equilibrium with the virus. And that is what we are working towards.


o   Second, our hospitals and healthcare workers continue to come under tremendous pressure.


§  Our 2,000 isolated rooms are 81% filled.  Queues have formed for COVID-19 and non-COVID patients needing hospital beds in certain hospitals.


§  We have stood up 207 ICU beds. 71 are occupied by patients who are intubated, that means they need ventilators to help them breathe.


§  They stay an average of 15 days, but the longest they stay, up to a month.


§  There are another 75 who are not intubated but have been admitted to ICU because they require close monitoring and treatment by ICU-trained healthcare workers, to prevent further deterioration.


§  So, the workload on healthcare workers and hospitals is therefore very significant.


o   Third, the number of infections amongst unvaccinated seniors aged 60 and above continues to be high. So, this is in contrast to vaccinated seniors where the numbers are falling, but for unvaccinated seniors, the infection numbers continue to be high.


§  They account for two-thirds of patients in ICU and who have died.


§  Over the past 5 days, the number of infections amongst this group averaged 127 per day.


§  For them, the disease is not 98.6% mild.


§  For unvaccinated seniors in their 60s, our data showed 1 in 4 will require oxygen, ICU care or will succumb. The risk goes up to 1 in 3 for those in their 70s, and almost 1 in 2 for those in their 80s or older.


§  Once an unvaccinated senior is on oxygen, more than 1 in 5 or more will go on to need ICU care or die.


§  So I hope with the vaccination-differentiated measures implemented recently, it will bring this number of infections of unvaccinated seniors down.


§  But hospitals are bracing themselves for a sustained, heavy patient load.


·      MOH is doing whatever we can to support and bolster the hospitals.


o   If need be, we will open up more ICU beds, the next leap would be to 300 beds, but that will be at the expense of further degradation of normal service and normal medical care.


o   We are beefing up manpower, through redeployment, using former swabbers as patient care and healthcare assistants, tapping on the help of the SG Healthcare Corps, where 2,000 people have signed up and about 800 are ready for deployment.


o   Our hospitals and healthcare workers will need the help from the rest of Singapore, to keep caseloads steady, and not overwhelm the system, so that we can continue to do our best to give proper medical care to all patients, COVID-19 and non-COVID.

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