Singapore begins testing at nursing homes

SINGAPORE (CNA) – Singapore aims to test about 16,000 residents at nursing homes for COVID-19 over the next few weeks, said its Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday, as he stressed the importance of keeping seniors safe amid the pandemic.

Testing has already been completed for 9,000 nursing home employees, with one positive case at Ren Ci nursing home in Ang Mo Kio.

Gan, co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force, said during a press conference that more than 30 residents who could have come in contact with the employee have been tested. Their results have returned negative, he said.

Providing an update about the situation at nursing homes, Gan emphasised the importance of protecting the elderly from contracting the virus.

“The seniors are at a significant significantly increased risk of severe disease if they are infected with COVID-19,” he said, citing both local and global data that shows that 80 per cent of COVID-19 death have happened among those above 60 years old.

Singapore has implemented several measures to protect its elderly, including minimising movement among nursing home and residential home employees, he said.

Client-facing staff have been instructed to move to designated accommodation facilities at the nursing homes, or at hotels during the circuit breaker period, Gan said.

“About 2,600 nursing home staff are in the process of moving into hotels,” Gan said. Employees who work at residential homes funded by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) are also similarly moving onsite, or to hotels.

About 700 staff working in MSF-funded residential homes will live at on-site facilities, and about 400 will move to hotels, said Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee, who was also present at the press conference.

Lee added that 4,600 employees and residents from residential homes have been swabbed, with most of the results returning negative so far.

Circuit breaker measures in place are expected to last until June 1, with the authorities easing some measures from May 12. Factors taken into consideration when easing the restrictions further include sustained low or single-digit cases in the community.

Gan also said at the press conference that all traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) halls will be able to sell retail products from May 12.