On 26 July 2021, focus in Parliament fell on the Government’s actions to deal with the recent flare up in Covid-19 infections within our communities as well as its strategy to deal with such infections at the endemic stage.
I raised 3 questions. First, given the public’s concerns on the KTV cluster, I sought an understanding from the Minister for Health whether intelligence on business believed to be flouting the Covid-19 Safe Management Measures is shared for the purposes of enforcement action. Minister Shanmugam answered the question and provided a detailed explanation of the enforcement action taken against KTV outlets even before the cluster arose.
My next question was on how the Government will be dealing with the treatment of Covid-19 patients once the virus becomes endemic. My concern was for the 10% of patients who may be afflicted with “long Covid”, meaning lingering symptoms such as loss of smell, breathlessness, etc for weeks, if not months. Minister Ong Ye Kung assured me that MOH is actively monitoring international developments on treatment options and will be proactive in procuring therapeutic agents which are shown to be effective for treatment purposes.
Finally, I asked a question on whether the Vaccine Injury Financial Assistance Programme can be extended to cover cases where there is a preliminary basis to believe that patients experiencing adverse medical conditions such as allergy, etc are connected with Covid-19 vaccines even though if it is proven not to be the case later. Minister Ong’s response was that there is an expert panel that will make the final determination on whether there is a causal connection between the adverse medical conditions and the vaccines and MOH will adopt a reasonable and practical approach.
ADJUSTMENTS TO CURRENT COVID-19 MEASURES AND EASING INTO ENDEMIC STAGE
Mr. Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Health with regard to the Government’s COVID-19 strategy in the long term when the virus becomes endemic, what steps are being taken to develop medical treatment options for patients infected with the virus in future.
Minister Ong Ye Kung: Mr. Murali Pillai will be comforted to know that MOH actively monitors international developments in medical treatment options for COVID-19. This is done through the National Centre of Infectious Diseases (NCID) and an expert committee. They have developed national treatment guidelines which are constantly updated based on new evidence. They provide guidance to our doctors on the use of evidence-based medical treatment options for COVID-19 patients.
Our local institutions have also been participating actively in international multi-centre trials investigating novel COVID-19 therapeutics. These trials have generated important data on new COVID-19 treatments such as remdesivir.
We will continue to closely monitor developments in COVID-19 treatments, proactively procure therapeutic agents which are shown to be effective, and maintain a stockpile based on projected needs.
Mr. Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Health whether the Vaccine Injury Financial Assistance Programme can be extended to cover cases where there is a preliminary medical basis to conduct investigations on patients who experience adverse side effects to determine if such adverse side effects are related to the Covid-19 vaccines taken by such patients even if, subsequently, it is determined that there is no correlation.
Minister Ong Ye Kung: […] Mr. Darryl David, Dr. Lim Wee Kiak and Mr. Murali Pillai asked about the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines. MOH has been publishing monthly safety updates on our website. It also gives an age breakdown of the affected persons and indeed, the majority are young people. As of 30 June 2021, HSA had received 12 reports of myocarditis and pericarditis occurring in persons after receiving a dose of the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccine. While there is a small increased risk among those in the younger age groups relative to the baseline rate, the local incidence rate remains low. One of the reported cases is a full-time national serviceman in the Singapore Armed Forces who is below 30 years old. None of the cases was from the Singapore Police Force and Singapore Civil Defence Force.
We implemented the Vaccine Injury Financial Assistance Programme or VIFAP to give greater peace of mind to people taking the vaccinations.
But remember that with or without vaccination, there is a baseline number of disease cases amongst our population. Since the vast majority of Singaporeans have stepped forward to be vaccinated, there will naturally be numerous incidents which just happen to coincide with vaccinations. Hence, we have to do what is practical and reasonable, which is to have VIFAP applications reviewed by a panel of medical experts, who will consider them against known evidence about the vaccines.
Mr. Murali Pillai asked the Minister for Health what steps have been taken to develop a comprehensive intelligence collation strategy on a Whole-of-Government basis to detect commercial entities which are believed to have flouted, or likely to flout, the Safe Management Measures enforceable under the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act.
Minister K Shanmugam: […] I will now deal with the questions which have been raised on enforcement. The period October 2020 to 10 July 2021, the Police conducted 202 operations against pivoted outlets as well as other outlets which were operating illegally. So, this is what I said earlier. Assume we had said no to all pivoting of F&B operations, there would still be places which offer sex and meet-up opportunities; that was always going to happen. So, we had one Police operation every single day on average since October 2020. So, I think, should put to rest any questions about enforcement actions by the Police; one operation every day. That has resulted in the detection of 58 Public Entertainment Act, Liquor Control Act infringements, 595 SMM breaches, 142 arrests for offences under various laws including the Public Entertainment Act, Liquor Control Act, Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, Immigration Act; not all in pivoted places but also completely illegal operations.
To share a few examples, in October 2020, Police raided units along Ubi Road and Kallang Pudding Road, 57 persons were investigated for breach of SMMs. In November at Genting Lane, 24 persons were investigated for breach of SMMs, 10 women were arrested for work pass-related offences. In February 2021 at Admiral Hill Road and, again, at Genting Lane, 88 persons investigated for breach of SMMs, one man arrested for working without a valid work permit. In April at Kitchener Road and Verdun Road, 45 persons investigated for breach of SMMs, seven men and one woman arrested. In all the cases, items such as karaoke equipment, liquor, were seized; operators are being investigated.
Enforcement operations were also conducted over 20 weekends at every single festive occasion since October 2020. About 400 F&B outlets including pivoted outlets were inspected in each operation. To-date, agencies have imposed around 100 closure orders on F&B outlets including on about 40 pivoted outlets. As I said to the House just now, there were about 437 pivoted outlets, so roughly 10% have been acting illegally, and about 60 other F&B outlets also were in breach. So, SFA has revoked the food licence of seven pivoted outlets as of 23 July.