Government has always planned for 'big surge' in COVID cases: Ong Ye Kung
SINGAPORE — The government has always planned for the possibility of a "big surge" in COVID-19 cases, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung in Parliament on Monday (4 October).
Referring to a query by Sengkang Member of Parliament He Ting Ru, Ong said, "The Member seems to have a narrative that we...did not plan for all this. On the contrary, we have always planned for a big surge."
The Workers' Party MP had asked about the government's planning parameters when it first announced that Singapore would move into the endemic phase of the pandemic. She said, "How many cases were we planning for that event before this current surge? Was it 1000, 2000, 3000, 5000?"
Alluding to the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health's projection that COVID-19 cases in Singapore might rise up to 10,000 a day, Ong said that he and his fellow multi-ministry taskforce (MTF) on COVID-19 co-chairs had consistently warned that the number of cases and deaths would rise.
Noting that many responses and protocols have been developed over the past 20 months, he added, "Many of the protocols were designed at a time when the public wants to see us snubbing out every single cluster, and so we have all these tight protocols, but now we are in the phase of trying to live with COVID-19."
Ong, who is also MP for Sembawang, noted that the four-stage re-opening process was announced without a timeline as the MTF needed to "watch the situation". When cases began to surge in end-August as the Delta variant took its toll, the authorities were ready to handle 1,500 cases a day.
While the government is currently ramping up capacity to handle up to 5,000 cases, it is already planning how to handle 10,000 cases, Ong said. "So in terms of planning capacity manpower, we always want to bounce ahead."
In her query, He also asked if the MTF's communications and messaging could be improved, given a surplus of confusing acronyms, flow charts and spreadsheets. "I think everybody want(s) to avoid a situation where...every time we loosen some restrictions, we see a massive surge and people cannot actually get any answers, or they cannot get through the hotlines."
Ong noted that the MTF had said on Saturday that the "many and complex" healthcare, testing and isolation protocols will be streamlined so that residents will find them simple enough to follow.
However, Ong "fully acknowledged" that the Home Recovery Programme (HRP) had not gone well, partly because it was still a pilot programme when the surge in cases happened. "All the complaints about conveyancing, calling, not getting in, people not getting responses, is not because the beds were totally full, but processes with regard to the HRP was not totally ready and we were caught by the sudden increase."
Stressing that HRP must work, he added, "Then, the great majority of patients who are well, no symptoms, mild symptoms can recover at home, then the hospital capacity that we planned for can focus on the 2 per cent that really need help."
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