SINGAPORE - Recovering at home and self-testing will in time be part of the process for those infected with the Omicron variant of Covid-19, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Sunday (Dec 26).
It said current measures to slow down its spread, including placing those infected and exposed to Omicron in recovery or quarantine facilities, are temporary to give Singapore time to learn more about the variant, and adapt and adjust its responses.
"Indeed, over the past weeks, it has become clearer that this is a far more transmissible variant, and there are indications that it has a lower incidence of severe illnesses amongst infected individuals," the ministry said.
"With greater clarity, we will in time converge the public health measures between Omicron and other Covid-19 variants. These include recovery at home and replacing quarantine with a self-testing regime, all of which are important steps in living with Covid-19."
The ministry made these points in response to a Dec 23 article by Bloomberg headlined "Singapore's Travelers Face Omicron Chaos". MOH released its response to the media.
The Bloomberg article cited the experiences of three people who arrived in Singapore on quarantine-free vaccinated travel lane (VTL) flights.
In the first, a Covid-19-positive European national suspected of having the variant was taken to a quarantine hotel and had to share a room with a stranger. His wife alleged that the authorities tried "several times" to take their child, who is under 10 and also tested positive, to a hospital alone or to an individual hotel room.
In the second case, a British citizen who tested positive on arrival said she got conflicting information about what to do. She was taken to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, where she received three slices of bread and butter only after she alerted staff that she had not had her dinner. She was also looking at "thousands of dollars in hospital bills".
The third example was of a Singaporean returning from the United States who had to serve quarantine as he was a close contact of someone who tested for Omicron on his flight. He said he was confused about what qualified as "close" as he had been sitting in business class and far from others.
In its reply to Bloomberg, MOH said Omicron has presented significant uncertainties in the global fight against Covid-19.
While the world races to study and understand the variant, Singapore has put in place precautionary measures to slow down its spread in the community.
"This gives us more time to roll out booster shots, get even more people vaccinated, and enhance our intensive care unit capacity," MOH said.
These measures are similar to those put in place when the Delta variant emerged. They include more rigorous tests for incoming travellers, contact tracing, and placing infected or exposed individuals in designated recovery or quarantine facilities, such as hotels, respectively.
"To optimise the use of our overall healthcare capacity, those who test positive for Covid-19 may be isolated in care facilities with another Covid-19-positive patient," it said.
The ministry said that contrary to what Bloomberg reported, children will not be separated from their families. Those aged 12 years and below will stay with a caregiver, while those aged 13 to 19 are allowed to isolate only with the written consent of their caregivers.
"According to our checks, all children aged 12 years and below who were under quarantine or isolation have been accompanied by a caregiver," it said.
The ministry said these public health measures apply to everyone, be it Singapore citizens, permanent residents or foreigners.
But it added that these measures are also temporary "to give us time to learn more about the Omicron variant, and adapt and adjust our responses accordingly".
It added: "In the meantime, we seek everyone's understanding, as we implement sound public health measures to ensure the safety of our community."
As at Dec 25, 448 confirmed Omicron cases have been detected in Singapore. This included a cluster of 10 cases linked to The Vinyl Bar in River Valley Road, which was linked to a traveller who arrived in Singapore on Dec 14 from the US on a VTL flight.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.