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HomesingaporeSingapore experiencing new COVID-19 wave, more people expected to fall sick in...

Singapore experiencing new COVID-19 wave, more people expected to fall sick in coming weeks: Ong Ye Kung

SINGAPORE: Singapore is experiencing another COVID-19 infection wave, with more people expected to fall sick and be hospitalised in the coming weeks, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Friday (Oct 6).

However, he added that there are no plans to impose any social restrictions, as with the last wave which occurred from March to April.

Speaking at the official opening of the Stepping Stones Rehabilitation Centre and Serenity Centre at the Institute of Mental Health, Mr Ong revealed that the estimated daily cases has risen from about 1,000 three weeks ago to 2,000 for the past two weeks.

The spate of cases is driven by mostly two variants – the EG.5 and its sub-lineage HK.3 – both of which are descendants of the XBB Omicron variant.

“Together, they now account for over 75 per cent of our daily cases,” Mr Ong said.

During the peak in April, the number of infections rose to about 4,000 cases a day

“We will treat this as an endemic disease, which is in line with our strategy, and we will live with it,” he said. “After all, there has been no evidence to suggest that the new variants are more likely to lead to severe illnesses compared to previous variants.

“All indications show that current vaccines continue to work well in protecting us against severe illnesses if infected by these new variants.”

But he warned Singapore against lowering its guard against COVID-19.

“In the coming weeks, we should expect more people to fall sick, and if so, hospitalisations will go up. Waiting times will go up,” he said.

IMPORTANT TO KEEP UP WITH VACCINATIONS

In his speech, Mr Ong advised seniors or those who are medically vulnerable due to underlying illness to take the necessary precautions, such as wearing a mask in crowded areas.

“But most importantly, seniors and vulnerable individuals are recommended to keep your vaccination up to date, which means taking a shot at least once a year,” he said.

“As I have said before, the COVID-19 virus has not become milder since the pandemic crisis. It is us who have gotten stronger and more resilient, and that is because of vaccinations as well as safe recovery from infections.”

“But like all protection, it will wane over time.”

He shared findings from a Ministry of Health (MOH) study, which showed the incidence rate of severe illness recorded during the peak of Singapore’s last infection wave in April.

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Among those who are “best protected” – those who have the minimum of three mRNA shots and a natural infection within the last 12 months – the severe illness incidence rate is about 10 per 100,000 people.

For the “least protected” group, or those who have no minimum protection and no recorded infection, they are five times more likely to fall very sick when infected with COVID-19. The incidence rate for such individuals is more than 50 in 100,000 people.

He then moved on to another finding which he described as the “most important”. 

He said: “For individuals who are well-protected with three mRNA shots plus an infection, but these are all acquired more than 12 months ago, their incidence rate of severe illness is also about 50 per 100,000 population – not very different from those who have no vaccination or protection.

“This is a clear indication that protection wanes. And it happens at around the 12-month interval, based on our study.”

Mr Ong urged seniors and those who are medically vulnerable to keep their vaccinations up to date, adding that doing so will likely keep symptoms mild and allow them to “recover quite uneventfully” should they get infected.

The infection will also give them protection against severe illness if they are infected with COVID-19 again in future.

“Before this protection wanes, if you take another jab, the protection gets renewed again,” he said.

“However, if you are not up to date with your vaccination, and you allow your protection to completely wear off, an infection now can be as worrisome as when the pandemic first broke out, when we had no vaccinations.

“That is why MOH continues to offer COVID-19 vaccinations for free at our various vaccination centres.”

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