Thursday, April 30, 2020

Which set of Singapore Covid-19 numbers should we pay attention to?

Singapore is dealing with a lot of covid 19 / coronavirus related numbers these days as the number of new cases total is increasing. Most are coming from the dorms some are  coming from community cases. Senior health correspondent Salma Khalik outlines the various sets of Covid-19 numbers, and gives her take on what data the public should pay attention to.

Salma Khalik says the more important data is the number of cases in the community which gives a better idea of how Singapore is doing in our fight against the virus and how circuit breaker measures are working.

"We are getting lots of different figures and the overall figure is quite scary but it does not reflect the circuit breaker measures because a lot of these cases are in foreign worker dormitories" says Salma Khalik.

"If you want to know whether the circuit breaker measures are working then you really need to look at the cases in the community whether they are Singaporeans and PRs or whether they are also
employment pass workers who are living in the community."

But if we focus on just the number of community cases, do we risk not getting a fuller more comprehensive picture of our fight against the virus?

"Actually all the figures are important. It depends very much on what you want to extract from those figures. So overall figures are very important, number of people in hospitals is very important, number of people in intensive care is equally important. So it depends very much on what information you want to extract.

My point is if you're looking at whether the circuit breaker measures are working then you should concentrate on the community cases. But if you're looking at whether it's time to ease the circuit breaker measures then you have to look at all the cases because even the dormitory workers when the circuit breaker measures ease will be coming out into the community to work.

So at different points along this continuum you need to look at different figures and they tell you different things.

Right now somewhat on that note the escalating number of dormitory infections has been a cause of concern for several weeks. Now even though the numbers are high, workers in the dorms are now isolated from the rest of the population."

You wrote that the high numbers are due to Singapore's aggressive and strategic testing. What would be the best way to describe the current situation in the dorms?

"Quite bad. Actually there are good points at bad points. A lot of people will say there's nothing good about people getting sick. But in this case, a lot of the foreign workers are younger and healthier people. They had already moved out the older foreign workers to protect them.

Among the younger workers as of yesterday not a single one of the thousands of workers who have got covid 19 have needed intensive care. So that's very good news because they're getting it mildly and a lot of these people who were identified covid 19 patients actually were not even sick or had such mild symptoms. But because we are now testing a lot of them, people who are in contact with those who have been diagnosed, we are finding them. If we didn't do that we wouldn't have found them.

Moving away from the dorms the health ministry now splits the non-dormitory cases into two categories; Singaporeans / permanent residents / foreigners on an employment pass holders in one
category and foreign worker permit holders not living in dormitories in the other. How is this splitting of the information useful?

"Actually i asked the ministers that at yesterday's press conference and health minister explained that the reason they did the split was because they wanted to find it easier to trace the epidemiological root of the virus. In other words he says because these two groups have fairly distinct characteristics.
Locals as well as foreigners here with families are more likely to get the virus as well as spread the
virus to family members whereas the foreign workers who are living in shop houses or in dormitories with their fellow workers the likelihood is they may get it at work. Because some of these are still in essential services and they are working. A lot of them are construction workers so this really helps the government identify and track the cases.

But they've been very open i mean they've given us those numbers so it's up to us if we want to add them which i think should be done to give a real picture for the community."

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