Singapore’s Covid-19 infections rise amid new subvariants but no change to rules – although health ministry urges boosters
- City state’s health ministry says a third of new cases are linked to latest Omicron subvariants, almost double last week’s number
- While there’s strong immunity, government is reminding people, particularly over 60s, that jab number 3 hugely reduces risk of death or serious illness
Singapore is seeing a surge in Covid-19 cases, with a 23 per cent week-on-week increase in infection amid newer Omicron subvariants.
The health ministry said on Tuesday night that the proportion of BA.4 and BA.5 infections is rising, contributing to about a third of Singapore’s Covid-19 cases. This compared to 17 per cent, 8 per cent and 3 per cent in the previous three weeks.
Singapore was hit by the Omicron wave earlier this year and saw close to 20,000 daily infections, the bulk of them being the BA.2 subvariant. On Tuesday, it reported 7,109 cases.
On May 15 Singapore reported its first local cases of the two new sub-variants, which were both first detected in South Africa earlier this year.
However, Alex Cook, vice-dean for research at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said there was no cause for alarm as Singapore had built up good immunity through vaccinations, boosters and infections.
Currently, 77 per cent of the population of 5.45 million have had their third jab. Singapore has seen more than 1.3 million infections already, meaning about a quarter of the population have had the virus.
Cook said there was “every reason to expect that the next wave will be much smaller in severity than the last one, which did not come close to overwhelming the healthcare system. Unless the severity is unexpectedly high, Singapore should not need to have measures tightened”.
Still, the authorities are concerned about the elderly. On Monday, Ong posted videos on Instagram and Tiktok urging people to get vaccinated, especially the 80,000 over 60s who have not yet had their booster shots.
Ong said that for those aged 60 and above, the odds of ending up in intensive care or dying because of Covid-19 were 40 out of 1,000 without any vaccinations. This dropped to 10 in 1,000 if the person had had two jabs, and to 3 in 1,000 if the person had also had a booster shot.
To combat the oncoming wave, authorities are opening five new centres on June 23 to carry out vaccinations and testing, bringing the total number to 10. Anyone aged 12 and above can walk in for Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Novavax vaccination and booster shots.
The health ministry is also sending out mobile vaccination teams to give booster shots to the elderly.
Most cases in the previous Omicron wave had no or mild symptoms, due to the high vaccination levels. Nonetheless, the high number of cases still put the healthcare system under strain, with many residents with mild symptoms seeking emergency medical care in hospitals despite directives for people to visit their usual doctors.
There has not been a recent increase in severe Covid-19 cases in hospitals including intensive care units, but hospitals are still busy with other healthcare issues.
“We strongly advise the public to only seek medical treatment at a hospital’s emergency department for serious or life-threatening emergencies,” said the health ministry.
The surge in cases in Singapore comes amid a fresh global wave of infections driven by subvariants. Latest Our World in Data information showed the rolling seven-day average of confirmed new cases per million people is on the rise across Europe, including in France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal.
The subvariant BA.5 now accounts for some 80 per cent of new infections in Portugal, where there has been a big surge in hospital admissions over the past month, rising almost as high as during the original Omicron wave in January, according to the Financial Times.
In Israel, which, like Singapore, gained global praise for the pace at which it rolled out vaccines, 10,000 new cases were diagnosed on Sunday, the highest number since April 4.