January 5, 2024
SINGAPORE – The number of Covid-19 patients admitted to hospitals and intensive care units (ICUs) has fallen sharply in the past week, a sure sign the current wave has subsided, even though infection numbers are still relatively high.
“I think we can be confident that this Covid-19 wave has run its course as the numbers again approach baseline,” said Professor Dale Fisher, a senior infectious diseases consultant at the National University Hospital.
The 496 patients hospitalised in the week of Dec 24 to Dec 30 is a big drop from the 864 admitted in the previous week. Similarly, the 13 people who needed intensive care in the last week of December is 10 fewer than the 23 the previous week.
The Covid-19 wave had peaked in the week of Dec 10 to Dec 16, with an estimated 58,300 people infected. In that week, 965 people were admitted to hospitals, with 32 patients sent to ICUs.
Dr Asok Kurup, an infectious diseases specialist in private practice, warned that people coming back from year-end holidays could push up infections, but Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, disagreed.
He said the recent wave “means there is sufficient immunity in the population as a whole such that the current strain cannot sustain itself”.
“So even if returning holidaymakers are coming back sick, they won’t kick off another wave unless they bring new variants that can circumvent the patterns of immunity we have at present,” he added.
The number of people who need to be hospitalised or require intensive care is a more reliable indication of the infection wave’s severity. That is because, with the disease being endemic, no reports are needed, so infection numbers reflect only those who seek medical care.
Prof Fisher said such waves can be expected in the future “as our immunity wanes and the virus continues to evolve with small mutations”. But it is too early to tell if the infections will be seasonal, as with influenza.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) started providing daily updates of Covid-19 infections from Dec 19, when infection numbers were high. It provided a seven-day moving average based on five days of data since that came primarily from polyclinics, which are shut on weekends.
But the accuracy of those figures was affected by the two public holidays – Christmas and New Year’s Day – as they resulted in just four days’ worth of data, instead of the usual five, spread over a seven-day period.
That figure currently stands at 2,600 infections a day, from the peak of 7,870 on Dec 12.
Prof Cook said: “Even though it’s hard to interpret the case data because of the public holidays over the last two weeks and the effect that they might have had on people’s visits to primary care, the fact that the hospitalisations and numbers of patients in ICU have fallen points quite clearly to the wave having crested.
“It’s very reassuring that the country was able to weather this wave through just social responsibility and our levels of immunity.”
The wave resulted in some children 11 years and younger with Covid-19 being admitted to hospital, but none to intensive care.
Prof Fisher said: “Severe illness will still threaten the vulnerable, especially those unvaccinated in the last six to 12 months. It is remarkable that so many people who need admission are the unvaccinated elderly… still.”
According to MOH, four in five people here have the minimum protection of three mRNA or four traditional vaccinations.
The ministry had previously indicated that even those with minimum protection whose last Covid-19 jab was more than a year ago face almost twice the risk of needing hospital care than someone who had a booster within the past 12 months.
In November, Covid-19 killed 21 people here. This brings the total number of deaths from Covid-19 in the first 11 months of 2023 to 247. One of the fatalities was a child below 12 years old.