Rising cases, deaths test Singapore’s pivot to treat Covid as endemic

SINGAPORE – Rising Covid-19 infections and deaths are testing Singapore’s long-term strategy of treating the coronavirus as endemic.

About 82% of the city-state population has been fully vaccinated, data from the Ministry of Health showed. But an increase in Covid cases – the vast majority of whom have no or mild symptoms – led the government to toughen social distancing measures starting this week.

Many of those cases were caught because Singapore is “doing a lot of surveillance for Covid” through testing, said Ashley St. John, associate professor at Duke-NUS School of Medicine. But the country may have to change its methods as it seeks to live with the virus, he added.

“Other things that we are doing, like social distancing, can be helpful over a period of time to help control these spikes in cases,” St. John told CNBC.Asian street signs” on Friday.

“But we really need to start changing the way we think about this: from being a kind of containment and elimination strategy for Covid, to living with the virus in our community, but what kind of measures can we put in place to make it less severe for who are exposed to it, “he said.

Health system under pressure

Singapore’s Ministry of Health said Thursday that more than 28,000 Covid infections were detected in the last 28 days. Of those, 98.1% had no or mild symptoms, while 0.1% died, the ministry said.

A total of 1,360 cases are in hospitals as of noon Thursday, the ministry said. Of these, 204 are cases of serious illnesses that require supplemental oxygen and 34 are in the intensive care unit.

Together, the Southeast Asian country has reported more than 96,500 Covid cases and 95 deaths, data from the Health Ministry showed.

In announcing the latest tightening of Covid measures, the Health Ministry said last week that the rapid rise in infections has “puts pressure” on the health care system. He added that many infected people with mild symptoms sought medical attention in hospitals, although it might not be necessary.

The Singapore government has started allowing infected people with mild symptoms to recover at home if: among other criteria – are fully vaccinated. He recognized that the protocols for home recovery are new and can be improved.

Alternative plan

In recent months, the government has relaxed and tightened Covid measures several times as the highly infectious delta variant spreads in the country.

That has made the government appear “hesitant” to move away from a “Covid zero” strategy, according to the opposition Singapore Democratic Party. The SDP does not have an elected member in parliament.

“In theory, the government is moving away … from the zero Covid strategy, but the actions are a bit hesitant,” Paul Tambyah, president of the SDP and an infectious disease specialist, told CNBC.Squawk Box Asia” on Friday.

The party has proposed a plan to get out of the pandemic, including discontinuation of testing of asymptomatic vaccinated individuals outside of contact tracing and removal of “general closures and restrictions”.

The plan seeks to ensure that health care resources are focused on vulnerable people, those with serious illnesses and the prevention of deaths, said Tambyah, who is also president of the Asia Pacific Society for Clinical Microbiology and Infection.

“Right now, one of the concerns is that a lot of asymptomatic people are being tested, a lot of general shutdowns are taking place and these are diverting resources that should really be focused on the sick,” he said.

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