'Hard to avoid this variant': Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen reveals he is recovering from Covid-19

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said he had anticipated he would get the virus given how contagious the Omicron variant has been.
PHOTO: The Straits Times file, Facebook/Ng Eng Hen

SINGAPORE - In a Facebook post on Tuesday (Feb 8), Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said he is recovering from Covid-19 .

Dr Ng shared his personal experience with the virus, which he had anticipated he would get given how contagious the Omicron variant has been.

"Not that one would go looking to be infected, but with the highly infectious Omicron causing the largest waves since the start of the pandemic in Singapore, it would be hard to avoid this variant, unless one became a recluse," Dr Ng said.

Given that Dr Ng had already had a total of three shots of the vaccine (two primary doses and a booster shot), he felt assured that he would avoid serious illness.

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Recounting his experience over five days, Dr Ng, the first Singapore minister known to have been infected with Covid-19, said day one started out normal enough, where he did his regular exercise of running and weights.

"Felt good and energetic," he wrote.

Subsequently, he had some video meetings in office, none of which were in person. In the evening, his throat felt raspy. Dr Ng, 63, then found out that his grandchild had tested positive for the virus as the pre-school he attended had a cluster of cases.

He took an Antigen Rapid Test (ART) and tested positive.

"ART can't tell the exact variant, but it is most likely to be Omicron, which is now the dominant strain. I had no fever but didn't sleep well," Dr Ng said in his post.

On day two, he felt good in the morning and thought that his case would be a mild one, but it subsequently became worse.

"Fever spiked in the evening to 38.5 degree Celsius but broke readily with Paracetamol. Throat became sore, nasal passages more congested. Heavy head and myalgia set in," he said.

"The protective effects of the vaccine were kicking in, to confine the infection to just the upper airways, and not spread to other organs. My lungs were fine. Checked my pulse oximeter — 98 per cent (oxygen saturation). Took some cough mixture and that gave good sleep thankfully," added the surgeon.

Dr Ng felt better on day 3, with no more body aches and headache. He said he never lost his appetite and could taste and smell.

"In fact, had craving for chai tau kueh (fried carrot cake) and porridge, which kind and loving souls delivered without contact," he added.

Dr Ng was still suffering from low grade fever of around 37.5 degree Celsius.

"The Omicron enemy seems to attack mainly my throat - not even nasal passages. No sneezing or running nose. But throat was really sore and dry now although pulse oximeter never went below 98 per cent (oxygen saturation)," he said.

He used a strong torch to have a look at the damage on his throat and could see redness and swelling.

"Ouch, it hurts to swallow. For me, this was the most troublesome symptom. Tried all sorts of remedies — lozenges, herbal, honey ginger tea etc, with little relief. As expected, interrupted sleep," Dr Ng wrote in his post.

On day four, other than his sore throat, Dr Ng felt quite well.

He was itching to exercise, but decided against it after receiving a mild admonition from his wife, who is a paediatrician. He took another ART test when the 72-hour mark had passed and it was still positive.

On day five, the positive line on his ART test appeared less intense.

"I'm better with the infection waning... If I got infected two years ago with the original strain, unprotected without vaccines, I would have feared for my life literally," Dr Ng said.

"Even six months ago, the Delta variant could have caused more serious illness without boosters. But the vaccine and booster have turned a potentially life-threatening disease to a mild one - a bad sore throat."

Dr Ng said he will now follow the Health Ministry's Protocol 2, and work from home. He met his Government Parliamentary Committee (Defence and Foreign Affairs) colleagues on Tuesday (Feb 8) via video conferencing and has a number of meetings lined up later this week.

"Video conferencing has really enabled us to work remotely," Dr Ng added.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.