People who develop mild Covid-19 symptoms may be allowed to recover at home under a new pilot programme starting on Aug 30, as part of Singapore’s gradual shift towards living with the disease.
The move, which will free up hospital capacity and help the healthcare system revert to “peacetime operation”, is a crucial step to take, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday.
Countries such as Australia, Canada and Britain have taken a similar approach and been successful, he added.
“We have been a lot more cautious, but now that the great majority of our people are fully vaccinated, we should also take a step in this direction.”
People infected with Covid-19 will qualify for the household isolation scheme if they have mild or no symptoms and can be isolated from everyone else in the house.
Those living with them will also be subject to home quarantine and must be fully vaccinated. They will have to take daily antigen rapid tests to detect potential infection.
Household members should not be pregnant, elderly or immunocompromised, or have severe chronic medical conditions, as these are considered vulnerable groups.
These requirements are in line with the World Health Organisation’s recommendations and the best practices of other developed countries, the Health Ministry (MOH) said.
Speaking at a virtual press conference yesterday, Mr Ong noted that Covid-19 patients currently recover in two types of facilities – hospitals, which care for 35 per cent of patients, and community care facilities, which account for the rest. They are discharged when they are deemed no longer infectious.
With over 98 per cent of infected people who are fully vaccinated showing mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, it is sensible to add a third layer allowing people to recover at home, Mr Ong said.
“That would be a very meaningful enhancement of our healthcare capacity.”
Elaborating on the pilot scheme, Singapore’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak said patients will spend the first few days of their illness in a medical facility, moving to home isolation only after their viral loads have fallen.
Infected individuals will have to wear tracking devices similar to that used for those on quarantine, and cannot mix with others in the house.
They must stay in isolation until at least 14 days have passed since the start of their illness. They will also have to take a polymerase chain reaction test on the ninth day of their illness, as well as an exit test to determine if they can leave isolation.
Should the person show high viral loads – suggesting that he remains infectious – he will have to continue isolating himself at home for another seven days.
Associate Professor Mak added that Singapore is adopting a “risk-calibrated and phased approach” for the scheme, and will ensure patients at home have access to telemedicine services should they require medical assistance.
If necessary, such patients will be taken back to the hospital for a full evaluation and further treatment, he said.
MOH will track the outcome of the pilot programme, to decide if more people can benefit from this type of care management.