The highly contagious Omicron variant could become a dominant coronavirus strain in Singapore in the next two months, completely replacing the Delta variant, a senior infectious diseases expert has warned.
The island-state has recorded 438 new Omicron cases on Tuesday, with the weekly infection growth rate going above one for the first time since Nov 12, The Straits Times reported.
“If the predictions are correct, we can expect high numbers with a mild disease, but we can’t be sure of this yet,” the report quoted Professor Dale Fisher, a senior consultant at the National University Hospital’s infectious diseases division, as saying on Tuesday.
Fisher said Singapore needs to retain its balancing act of keeping the country safe while not stifling travel, social activities and economic activity unnecessarily. It is a constant challenge when there are unknowns appearing regularly.
Warning that the highly contagious Omicron variant could completely replace the Delta variant in the next two months as the dominant Covid-19 strain in Singapore, he said that the number to focus on is that of serious cases rather than overall infection figures.
If too many people come down with severe illness, demand for hospital and intensive care unit beds will shoot up, and the healthcare system will risk being overwhelmed, Fisher said.
On Monday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung warned that an Omicron wave is “imminent” and the new variant accounts for 17 per cent of all coronavirus infections in the country.
Singapore reported its first local case almost a month ago, when a staff member at Changi Airport tested positive for Omicron.
On Dec 21, Singapore reported its first suspected Omicron cluster, linked to a gym in Bukit Timah Shopping Centre in a suburb residential district.
This level of transmission is not surprising, given how quickly Omicron has replaced other variants around the world, said Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, an infectious diseases expert at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.
He said Singapore is likely to report a sharp rise in cases over the next few weeks, although the relatively low Omicron-linked hospitalisation and death rates in countries with a similar demographic profile have been reassuring.
“The biggest concern for Singapore is that the Omicron variant will introduce another round of infections, even for people who were previously infected with Delta,” said Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.
Even though most of the Omicron infections are likely to be mild, some of those infected will still require hospital care, he said.
“But the good news is that Singapore’s Covid-19 restrictions, including its mask-wearing mandate and rules on social gatherings, will slow the spread of Omicron here,” Teo said.
Meanwhile, the health ministry in its daily Covid update said that 842 new cases were reported as at noon on Tuesday, taking the total tally to 281,596. The new cases include 502 imported infections and six in migrant worker dormitories.
Three more people died of complications linked to coronavirus, taking the total number of fatalities to 832, it said.