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Singapore’s latest Covid spike may be peaking, but don’t stop vaccinating, health minister says

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Hospitalization rate most important metric to watch as Covid cases surge: Singapore health minister

SINGAPORE — Singapore’s latest spike in Covid cases may be starting to peak — but the public needs to stay up to date on vaccinations, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told CNBC on Thursday.

Singapore reported 56,043 Covid cases in the week of Dec. 3 to 9, marking a 75% surge compared to the week before. The previous high recorded was 28,410 infections in the week of March 26.

Covid infections appear to have plateaued over the past week as the seven-day moving average dropped from 7,870 on Dec. 12 to 6,530 on Dec. 19.

“It may get slightly worse before it gets better. All indications [are] that we may have possibly peaked. So probably this is about it,” Ong told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”

A new Covid strain, the JN.1 variant, which has been classified as a “variant of interest” by the World Health Organization, accounts for the “vast majority” of the country’s latest wave of infections. WHO maintains that available evidence suggests the variant does not present “additional public health risks” increased compared to other circulating variants.

Asked if it’s a surprise that the variant appears to be “less impactful” than earlier strains, Ong said the new Covid variants are not evidently mild, but vaccinations have helped the country to tackle the wave.

TOPSHOT – People pass by as the city skyline is reflected in a puddle leftover from earlier rain in Singapore on February 8, 2022. (Photo by Roslan RAHMAN / AFP) (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)

Roslan Rahman | Afp | Getty Images

“The virus has not gotten more mild… We’ve gotten stronger because we got infected, we took the vaccination,” Ong said.

“But all these antidotes will wane. Twelve months, 18 months, 24 months, it will wane… We should brace ourselves for Covid getting more serious unless we continue to get vaccinations,” he said.

In addition to vaccination and booster shots — the country’s “primary defense” against Covid — the health ministry has also urged the public to wear masks in crowded spaces even if they are not sick, particularly in the airport and other indoor settings.

According to the ministry, hospitalization rates are still “considerably lower” amongst those who are up-to-date with their vaccinations compared to those who have not.

Ong maintained that the number of hospitalizations remain a key metric to watch. The average daily Covid hospitalizations rose to 350 from 225, a report published on Dec. 15 showed.

“I think it is the most important metric now to watch, which is how many [hospital] beds are taken,” he said.

Singapore exited the acute phase of Covid in February and entered the endemic norm. The island-nation subsequently scrapped mandatory mask-wearing on public transport and indoor health-care settings, amongst other community measures such as working from home protocols and limits on group sizes.

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