SINGAPORE (Apr 28): Singapore is ramping up its efforts in caring for Covid-19 patients as the number of cases here inches towards the 15,000 mark.

One way it is doing so is doubling bed spaces at community care facilities meant for those with mild symptoms and low risk factors to 20,000 by end June, said Brigadier General David Neo, director of joint operations at the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) at a Covid-19 multi-ministry task force briefing on Tuesday.

Speaking on the same subject at a later press conference, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong stressed that patients housed here are under the care of a medical team which is supported by technology tools such as vital signs.

Presently, there are 10,000 such bed spaces at places like D’Resort NTUC chalet in Pasir Ris, Halls 1 – 6 at the Singapore Expo and Changi Exhibition Centre.

Neo noted that these places were set up quickly – with Singapore Expo being ready within a week while the Changi Exhibition Centre took two weeks.

“So far, the majority of the cases [at community care facilities] have had relatively mild diseases or no symptoms, and they do not require extensive medical intervention,” observed Gan.

“About 30% require closer observation due to underlying health conditions, or because of old age. A very small number require ventilation support and care in the intensive care units”.

Covid-19 patients who remain well after their 14th day of illness and who do not require further medical care may be transferred to community recovery facilities at SAF camps, added Gan.

Such recovery facilties too will see a five-fold increase to over 10,000 beds by end June, from the current 2,000.

Other measures adopted to increase capacity include postponing non-urgent elective procedures and creating new capacity in isolation wards and intensive care units by repurposing existing hospital facilities.

Collectively, this increases bed spaces for isolation and care needs from the present 18,000 to 23,000.

Aside from this, the authorities said swab isolation facilities -  where patients awaiting  their swab tests results are housed - will increase to over 7,000 from some 4,000 at present. Such facilities include units at hotels and hostels with attached toilets.

More manpower 

Apart from the lifts to capacity, the authorities noted a need for a corresponding increase in manpower to help execute the tasks required.

In line with this, the SG Healthcare Corps was launched on Apr 7 with 3,000 healthcare professionals across different specialisations.

“This includes those from the private sector, includes those who previously were active in health care but have decided to choose a second career and they’ve now come back, taking on their previous roles,” the Health Ministry’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak pointed out. 

Other members of the SG Healthcare Corps include returning healthcare workers coming out of retirement who had previously made a mid-career switch into another sector, he added.

He now anticipates more individuals – both within and outside of the healthcare sector – to come together to receive specific training and contribute towards stemming the transmission of the virus.

Said Mak : “Some of the roles that they play include forming swab-testing teams that support and augment the roles and capabilities of our medical teams which are deployed for caring for foreign workers, for example, in dormitories.”

While enhanced capacity and manpower remain critical, National Development minister Lawrence Wong, who is co-chair of the Covid-19 task force, reinforced the need for effective management.

This is “to ensure that the spaces are well-run, that there are adequate infection controls, medical support, security arrangements – a whole range of things that are needed," he reiterated.

Cases may increase

The government is now actively stepping up screenings for Covid-19 among workers in essential services and seniors, and warns that the number of cases may head north.

"As we step up our screening and testing, we are likely to see more cases being detected which otherwise would not have been detected. So I think we need to be prepared to see more cases emerging from these institutions as we prepare to do proactive testing for them,” said Gan.

A case in point are the 14 cases at eldercare facility Acacia Homes in Admiralty, which were detected after a comprehensive screening there, he adds.

As at 12pm on Tuesday, the republic reported 528 new cases, taking the total count of Covid-19 infections here to 14,951. Of the new cases, a vast majority are among migrant workers living in foreign worker dormitories, while 10 are Singaporeans or permanent residents.

However, Wong cautions that the exact rate of infection could well be higher than reported.

"Today's infection rate we are seeing in the general population may be lower than the actual infection rate, because as we said, there may be unlinked cases, hidden cases, very mild cases where people think it is just a normal cough or flu and then they recover,” he said.

"This is true everywhere in the world, so we know what we know from today's data but we can only know better if we do more extensive testing, which is what we hope to do."