While Singaporeans were pleased to see the relatively low number of new COVID-19 cases confirmed by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Saturday as it would indicate a declining trend of cases for the country, their joy may probably be short-lived, as an infectious disease expert has suggested that decline was due to the methodology of the tests conducted.
Professor Dale Fisher, senior consultant at the Division of Infectious Diseases in National University Hospital (NUH), told CNA in an interview that Singapore is still in the very early stages of sorting out the pandemic as efforts are ramping up.
“The numbers are not really coming down, it is a function of the test”, said Prof Fisher, who also chairs the Singapore National Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) committee.
“For the dormitories, the positivity rate is so high, you get to the point where you don’t need to test any more.
“But let’s just say if you have a clinical respiratory illness … Then you almost certainly have COVID. So we put those into isolation straight away,” he added.
As for whether the figures from the dormitories will be eventually included in the country’s tally, he said: “We should aim to have those clinical diagnoses eventually included in the numbers. I think that honesty is important. And that’s why it will be the case.”
“But there will be a lag because it is a different reporting mechanism,” said Prof Fisher. “Most we still want to test, but it does mean we can focus our efforts on those with less prevalence.”
He went on to state that the community isolation facilities are the choke point at the moment.
“The huge effort at the moment is to expand the number of community isolation facilities,” said Prof Fisher.
He pointed out that there are about five thousand beds now and there will be ten thousand beds over the next week or two. The target is twenty thousand beds after a month or two.
This will ease the pressure on the hospitals which are now operating at full capacity and intend to discharge their patients to community isolation facilities.
Existing community isolation facilities are built in Changi Expo, says Prof Fisher. Another is also being built at Tuas South.
As of Sunday (26 April) at 12pm, Ministry of Health (MOH) has preliminarily confirmed an additional 931 cases of COVID-19 infection in Singapore.
MOH shared that the vast majority of whom are Work Permit holders residing in foreign worker dormitories. 15 cases are Singaporeans/ Permanent Residents.
This brings the total tally to 13,624 cases in Singapore.
What Prof Fisher shared with CNA supported the account of Kokila Annamalai, a social worker who posted on Facebook the information that she obtained from workers in the S11 dormitory.
She noted that there has been no testing of workers without symptoms. According to her, this is the reason why other workers are not tested even when a few workers in a room test positive for COVID-19.
She also pointed out that the on-site testing started over a week ago, but seems to have stopped in the last 2-3 days.
Around 20 to 23 April, the protocol for S11 dormitory was that if workers present with a mild fever, cough, or any other symptom that is indicative of the novel coronavirus — but do not need hospital care — they are not tested.
The workers will instead be given medication to manage their symptoms.
Only workers who need hospital care — for example, if they are dehydrated and need drips, or have difficulty breathing and need hospital facilities to help them — are tested, once they reach the hospital.