Singapore can expect ‘recurring waves’ of coronavirus, circuit breaker unsustainable, says NCID head
- Professor Leo Yee Sin, executive director of Singapore’s National Centre for Infectious Diseases, said complete elimination of Covid-19 is not attainable for now
- Singapore reported 793 new coronavirus cases on Friday, taking its total number of infections to 26,891
But until then, the country will have to buy itself time to reduce the impact of the virus by having a solid plan in place, said the infectious diseases specialist.
“We are hoping to be able to suppress the transmission [of the virus], but I do not think we can attain complete elimination,” Professor Leo said on Thursday during the sixth edition of the Covid-19: Updates from Singapore webinar series.
The webinar was jointly organised by the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network, the National University of Singapore’s Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and the National University Health System.
On Friday, Singapore reported 793 new coronavirus cases, taking its total number of infections to 26,891. Only one of the cases is either a Singapore citizen or permanent resident, with most of the new cases being work permit holders living in foreign worker dormitories.
Leo said an expert health care system would help to reduce mortality and morbidity. Sharing information from the WHO, she said that completely interrupting human-to-human transmission “is not very attainable at this point”, given the characteristics of the virus.
“It is very likely that we will have recurring epidemic waves interspersed with periods of low-level transmissions,” she said. “In other words, we need to have the ability and capacity to be able to cope with intermittent surges [in infections].”
This means that there must be adequate health care facilities to handle new cases as they come. There must also be enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and trained health care workers on standby to be able to provide patients with optimal care, Leo said.
Beyond these measures, she said that active case findings and contact tracing must continue, and Singapore will also need a “rapid response team” to counter any of the potential epidemic waves in the future.
“We are all waiting for more good news for effective pharmaceutical interventions … and of course, we are all waiting for that one day we have effective vaccines available.”
Leo also addressed concerns about front-line workers getting infected with Covid-19, saying it was hard to tell whether the infections happened within a health care facility or in the community. “If you look at the current data, a majority of them acquired the infections within the community rather than having clear-cut evidence that they acquired the disease in the hospital.”
Leo noted that disease transmission is predominantly during the pre-symptomatic and early phases. “Clinical illness tends to be very mild at the onset, and many people do not worry. They are still moving around and going through their daily activities,” she said. “So the infection is actually out there in the community, rather than concentrated in the nosocomial [hospital-acquired] setting.”
What this means, she said, is that health care workers can no longer rely on just putting on their PPE when dealing with patients to protect themselves. They will also have to observe all the necessary precautions when interacting with colleagues, such as by keeping a safe distance and wearing a mask.
“The disease not only transmits from patients to health care workers; it can be [a result of] just social interactions among the health care workers and among staff,” Leo said.
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