SINGAPORE - No visitors will be allowed in hospital wards for four weeks, from Friday (Sept 24) to Oct 23, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Wednesday.
This tightened restriction came amid the rise in Covid-19 cases in the community, and with more cases detected among hospital staff, patients, and visitors.
This has led to ward closures and staff quarantine, putting a strain on hospital bed capacity and staffing at a time when more hospital beds are needed to care for hospitalised Covid-19 patients, MOH said.
The ministry added that from Friday, higher-risk patients - regardless of their vaccination status - will also have to undergo mandatory antigen rapid testing (ART) at the hospital emergency departments.
MOH noted that certain patient groups will be allowed visits on a case-by-case basis, as assessed by the hospital.
They include patients who are in critical condition, paediatric patients, those giving birth or post-partum mothers, and patients requiring additional care support from caregivers.
The measure also covers the assistance of inpatients who have mental incapacities or family members who are undergoing caregiver training to better care for their loved ones after discharge.
Such patients will be allowed only one pre-designated visitor, for one visit per day.
Patients who are in critical condition may be allowed up to five pre-designated visitors, with a maximum of two visitors at the patient's bedside at any one time.
But all approved visitors will have to produce a valid negative ART or polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result obtained within the last 24 hours of each visit.
"This is a mandatory requirement for all visitors, regardless of the individual's vaccination status, except for persons who have recovered from Covid-19 and are able to present a valid pre-event test (PET) exemption notice," MOH said.
It added that all approved visitors must wear face masks with good filtration capability at all times, which include surgical masks and reusable masks that are made of two layers of fabric.
There will also be no eating or drinking in the inpatient wards. Visitors cannot use the patients' toilets in the wards and must avoid sitting on patients' beds.
Meanwhile, MOH is also introducing measures to help emergency departments (ED), which are usually crowded.
"Currently patients presenting with acute respiratory infection (ARI) symptoms at the hospitals' ED or 24-hour emergency clinic will be segregated from the other patients," MOH said.
"However, with more Covid-19 cases presenting pre-symptomatically or asymptomatically, testing will be needed to reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission at the ED."
Hence, from Friday, higher-risk patients - regardless of vaccination status - will be required to undergo mandatory ART at the EDs or 24-hour emergency clinics.
They include patients who are lodged in ED beds for prolonged observation in the short-stay unit or extended diagnostic and treatment unit, or in the observation bay and wards in private hospitals.
It also covers patients who need to undergo mask-off assessment and, or procedures lasting for 15 minutes or more.
Those accompanying these patients, who are allowed to stay with the patients throughout the observation period beyond 30 minutes, will also be subjected to ART.
The Government will subsidise the costs of ART for both vaccinated and unvaccinated patients until the end of 2021, MOH said.
Accompanying persons may have to pay for the tests, depending on the hospitals.
"We urge those who have non-emergency conditions or mild symptoms to avoid seeking treatment at the hospitals and consult a general practitioner (GP) or urgent care centres instead," MOH stressed.
Those who are concerned that they have Covid-19 should go to a Swab and Send Home (SASH) clinic instead.
GPs there will assess the severity of the individual's symptoms and perform Covid-19 diagnostic tests when needed to confirm his health status, it added.
"This will allow patients with more severe illnesses and who require emergency urgent care to be attended to quickly and helps to preserve hospital capacity for those who truly need hospital care."
MOH has also increased surveillance testing frequency for hospital staff, as well as vendors who work in the hospitals.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.