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7 things to know as Singapore refines its healthcare protocols to ride the Omicron wave (Jan-Feb 2022)

7 things to know as Singapore refines its healthcare protocols to ride the Omicron wave (Jan-Feb 2022)

Travellers entering via VTLs will have a shorter testing period upon arrival, persons aged 12 to 17 will soon be eligible for booster shots, children aged five to 11 will now be suitable for Protocol 2, and more. Full updates here.

On Friday (21 January 2022), Singapore's COVID-19 Multi-Ministry Taskforce detailed key steps the country will be taking to refine its healthcare protocols in dealing with the Omicron wave of the pandemic.

As part of these steps, persons aged 12 to 17 will soon be eligible for booster shots, children aged five to 11 will now be suitable for Protocol 2, travellers entering via vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs) will have a shorter testing period upon arrival, and more.

Here's everything you need to know about these measures:

Updated border measures from 23 January 2022, 2359 hours

VTL testing regimes

The Taskforce noted: "On 31 December 2021, we announced a four-week extension to the enhanced seven- day testing regime for travellers arriving via VTLs in order to facilitate the detection of imported Omicron cases and slow transmission into the community. This has bought time for us to booster vaccinate more residents, learn more about the Omicron variant and make necessary adjustments to our COVID-19 strategy.

"As imported cases now form a shrinking proportion of our overall cases, we will simplify the VTL testing regime."

These measures, it added, are less relevant now. Hence, effective 23 January, 2359 hours, VTL travellers entering Singapore via both air and land checkpoints will only be required to do unsupervised self-administered ARTs from day two to day seven of their arrivals, if they need to leave their place of residence or accommodation. Travellers need not submit their ART results but must test negative before going out.

VTL travellers who arrived before 23 January 2022, 2359 hours are still required to continue with the existing testing regime (i.e. unsupervised self-administered ART on days two, four, five, and six with submission of results online, and supervised ART on days three and seven from their arrival).

Travellers who test positive on ARTs (i.e. the on-arrival test for VTL-Land and unsupervised self-administered ARTs on days two to seven) no longer need to undergo a confirmatory PCR test, but should instead simply recover under Protocol 2.

However, those who identify themselves as potentially at risk should visit a doctor for medical advice after testing positive even if they feel well.

Last, Singapore will continue to maintain a 50% limit on VTL flight and bus tickets for entry into Singapore for now. "We will continue to review the local and global COVID-19 situation and adjust our measures accordingly," the Taskforce said.

Travel updates for recently-recovered travellers

As fully-vaccinated individuals who recently recovered from infection are considered to have a high level of immunity through their recent COVID-19 infection and vaccination, the likelihood of reinfection is low, the Taskforce highlighted.

Therefore, travellers arriving in Singapore after 23 January 2022, 2359 hours, who are fully vaccinated and recently recovered (i.e. within 90 days of their last infection) will be exempted from all testing and SHN requirements if they are able to provide appropriate documentary proof.

Non-fully vaccinated, recently-recovered travellers will be exempted from pre-departure testing requirements, but will still be subjected to all other prevailing border measures. 

Vaccination and booster expansions/extensions from early February 2022

Booster shots for individuals aged 12 to 17 years

Singapore will soon be extending the booster vaccination programme to individuals aged 12 to 17 years.

It will first start by progressively inviting individuals aged 16 and 17 years in early February, followed by those aged 12 to 15 years.

Individuals in this age group will require the consent of their parent/guardian to book an appointment. Parents/guardians of these individuals will receive an SMS with a personalised booking link to the mobile number that they had registered with for the primary series, to provide consent and book their child/ward’s booster vaccination appointment. They can be boosted in any vaccination centre offering the Pfizer-BioNTech/ Comirnaty vaccine and should bring along their student identification, or if not available, other forms of identification (e.g. birth certificate/passport/SingPass) for verification purposes.

Parents/guardians of children/wards aged 13 and above are not required to accompany them on the day of vaccination. However, children/wards aged 12 and students of Special Education (SPED) schools will need to be accompanied by a parent/guardian, per the arrangements for the primary series vaccination. The Ministry of Health and the Health Promotion Board will be working with SPED schools on this, and more details will be shared by SPED schools with parents/guardians at a later date.

As for individuals aged 12 to 17 years who are medically ineligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech/ Comirnaty vaccine, they will be offered a Sinovac-CoronaVac booster dose under a dedicated public health programme, which will also be extended to children aged five to 11 years who are medically ineligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech/ Comirnaty vaccine for their primary vaccination series.

"Participants in the public health programme will be closely monitored by trained medical personnel. MOH will contact eligible persons with detailed instructions," the MTF shared.

Expansion of requirement for booster dose for those aged 12 to 17 years

The MTF had previously announced that from 14 February 2022, persons aged 18 years and above who have completed the primary vaccination series and are eligible for booster vaccination will be considered as fully vaccinated for only 270 days after the last dose in their primary vaccination series. Upon receiving their booster, they will continue to maintain their vaccinated status.

In the same vein, starting from 14 March 2022, individuals aged 12 to17 years who have completed their primary series and are now eligible for booster vaccination will similarly be considered fully vaccinated for only 270 days after their last primary series dose, and will require a booster dose to maintain their vaccinated status thereafter.

Overall, the MTF noted that individuals who have recovered from COVID-19 and have completed their primary series vaccination do not require an additional booster dose at this point in time. Instead, they will continue to be considered fully vaccinated after 14 February 2022.

"However, it is safe for such persons to receive a booster dose from five months after their last dose and our vaccination centres will not turn away such individuals," it added.

Suspension of patient visits, updated healthcare protocols, and updates on community safe management measures 

Visits to hospitals and residential care homes suspended for four weeks

In efforts to better protect patients and healthcare workers, particularly settings with vulnerable persons, in-person visits to all hospital wards and residential care homes (Homes) will be suspended for a period of four weeks, from 24 January to 20 February 2022 (both dates inclusive).

During this period, hospitals and homes have the discretion to allow visits for exceptional cases, for example if the patient/resident is critically ill. Visitors would be subjected to visitor management measures.

"To ensure that patients/residents remain connected with their loved ones, the Hospitals and Homes will continue to support alternative methods of communication such as through telephone or video calls," the Taskforce shared.

Children aged five to 11 years are now suitable for Protocol 2 if infected

Following an assessment on the current management of COVID-19 cases, under Protocols 1 and 2, the MTF has announced that Singapore will be expanding the application of Protocol 2 to more patient groups and settings.

With immediate effect on 21 January, the age bracket suitable for Protocol 2 now includes children aged five to 11 years, regardless off their vaccination status. The MTF stated: "We urge those with non-emergency conditions, including children, to avoid seeking treatment at hospitals and to consult their primary care doctor instead. Those who test ART positive at non-clinical settings (e.g. unsupervised or employer supervised self-swab tests) but who identify themselves as potentially at risk should still visit a doctor for medical advice even if they feel well."

Additionally, patients on Protocol 1, who are recovering well and whose symptoms have improved, will be allowed to transit smoothly to Protocol 2. This means that they can be discharged earlier and return to normal activities if they test negative on a self-administered ART taken 72 hours or more after their first positive COVID-19 test.

"This will be progressively put in place in the coming couple of weeks, where Protocol 2 can be applied to all low-risk, asymptomatic individuals who are in Protocol 1 settings, such as COVID Treatment Facilities, those who test positive for Pre-departure Tests (PDT), Pre-event Testing (PET), Rostered Routine Testing (RRT) and mandatory traveller tests (e.g. On-arrival Tests (OAT) and tests taken at the end of Stay-Home Notice (SHN) periods), so long as their medical conditions allow it," the MTF said.

Current measures to remain in place during the Chinese New Year festive period

The prevailing safe management measures will apply during the upcoming Chinese New Year period:

House visits: The permissible group size for social gatherings remains at five persons. Correspondingly, the maximum number of unique visitors per household will remain at five persons per day. Individuals may wish to take an ART in advance of such gatherings, particularly if there will be elderly or unvaccinated family members present.

Dine-in at F&B establishments: Prevailing rules at F&B establishments will continue to apply, including for reunion dinners or other CNY meals at these establishments. Social gatherings remain capped at five persons and multiple table bookings exceeding this are not permitted, except for those from the same household.

Other religious or customary activities: Large-scale events, including religious processions or dinner banquets (including company-organised meals or tuan bai) will continue to be disallowed to avoid "superspreading events".

Lead image / 123RF

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