Singapore is moving 2,600 nursing-home employees into hotels to reduce their interaction with the community, with health minister Gan Kim Yong on Tuesday saying it was critical to protect older Singaporeans as they tended to be more severely affected by Covid-19.
Nineteen of the country's 20 deaths from the disease were patients above the age of 60, and four were nursing-home residents.
All 9,000 of the country's nursing-home staff have been tested, with one positive result. The 30 residents who were in contact with that employee have tested negative for the coronavirus, while authorities on April 29 began testing all 16,000 nursing-home residents in Singapore.
Nearly one in six seniors who were infected by the coronavirus developed severe symptoms and needed intensive care, compared with just 0.2 per cent of non-elderly patients.
About 1,100 staff at 34 welfare homes and centres for adults with disabilities are also moving on site or into hotels. All 3,300 residents and 1,300 staff at these government-funded homes were tested for the virus as of May 2.
Minister for social and family development Desmond Lee thanked the staff for this "big sacrifice, staying away from family, and for putting the well-being and welfare of your residents above them".
Singapore is not the first country to use this approach. In the United States, 70 employees at the Park Springs assisted-living facility in Atlanta have been living on site since the end of March, while Vilanova nursing home on the outskirts of Lyon in France did the same for 47 days.
There have been 20,058 deaths in nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the US, according to a tally kept by the Associated Press. In Singapore, there were 20 Covid-19 infections among nursing home staff and residents as of April 23.
The island nation on Friday announced another 768 cases, bringing its total to 21,707. The bulk of the new cases are low-wage migrant workers who live in dormitories, and authorities expect to see a rise in cases among this group for a few more weeks as they conduct "active and aggressive testing".
Also of concern to the government are recent infections among health care workers stationed at community facilities housing thousands of patients with mild symptoms " such as the Singapore Expo, where four staff have fallen ill.
Authorities said they were investigating how the transmissions happened to see if additional measures were needed. Workers will also be tested periodically and trained to correctly use personal protective equipment.
Singapore is also considering a number of technological solutions as it looks towards lifting its "circuit breaker"measures. National development minister Lawrence Wong said he wanted to be able to trace contacts quickly and issue quarantine orders, "literally on an electronic platform, instantaneously". The solutions could be smartphone apps or wearable dongles for those without smartphones.
Wong said the circuit breaker was making progress, with fewer new infections found outside the migrant-worker dormitories and fewer unlinked cases, but he reminded Singaporeans to be vigilant and said life would not go back to normal after the measures were lifted on June 1.
"It is clearly not going to be the case that after June 1, everything will be lifted and we will go back to status quo ante," he said. "All of us have to be mentally prepared that the scenario post June 1 will continue to be one of gradually calibrated easing."
Baseline measures that will remain include safe distancing measures and wearing masks, while authorities will look into how workplaces can reopen.
This article originally appeared on the South China Morning Post (www.scmp.com), the leading news media reporting on China and Asia.
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