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‘No sense of urgency’: Frustration and confusion mounting from Covid-19 home recovery patients

SINGAPORE – Frustration and confusion are mounting on the ground as Singapore’s healthcare system works to cope with the latest surge in Covid-19 cases.

While some people have said they are unable to contact the Ministry of Health (MOH) for official advice on their specific situations, others have complained about the long lag times between testing positive and being taken to a recovery facility.

A chat group – SG Quarantine Order Support Group – has surfaced on messaging app Telegram for people to share their experiences and pool information.

The Straits Times spoke to five people who have either contracted the virus themselves, or have family members who did.

Most requested not to use their full names.

Home recovery with no support

Shortly after Mr Chow tested positive on Sept 13, he received a call telling him to pack seven days’ worth of clothes as he would be taken to a community care facility.

But there was no follow-up.

The 37-year-old has been at home since then. He has been taking regular antigen rapid tests (ARTs), which have come up negative over the past few days. But he is not sure if he is allowed to resume normal life, as phone operators on the MOH hotline have told him to wait for further instructions.

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His TraceTogether status also shows he is “not cleared”, meaning that he will not be able to dine at restaurants unless he receives a written exemption.

People on MOH’s home recovery scheme are supposed to be assessed by a doctor via telemedicine and be matched with a buddy who will provide necessary support. But Mr Chow has not been contacted by anyone.

“I’m aware that there are a lot of cases now, and I don’t want to waste resources by calling MOH all the time,” he said. “But if you want people to recover at home, at least give them some clear guidance or some kind of support.”

Elderly mother left alone

Mr Liau’s 82-year-old father tested positive on Sept 15 and was taken to hospital three days later.

This left his 79-year-old mother – who was symptomatic and had also tested positive using an ART – alone at home for the next four days.

“My mother is the one we are very worried about,” said Mr Liau, 42. “She was recently discharged from the hospital for having fainting spells, and she has been alone by herself since Saturday.”

He tried to contact the Health Ministry, but succeeded only recently. On Wednesday (Sept 22), an official was sent to his parents’ house to administer a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test – one week after she had tested positive with an ART kit.

The family is now awaiting the PCR test result to find out what happens next.

“Without that test result, it’s like she’s in no man’s land,” said Mr Liau, who works in the aerospace maintenance industry. “She can’t leave the house, she can’t be admitted to hospital, she can’t go anywhere.”

Six-year-old son tests positive

It has been seven days since Mr Bruce Lee’s son tested positive for Covid-19.

But apart from an initial visit to a general practitioner to get him tested, the six-year-old has not received any formal medical care.

Mr Lee, 54, has been attempting to contact MOH for help, especially since the GP suggested that a child his son’s age should recover in a medical facility. But he has not heard back yet.

He said: “We are talking about my child, who has a history of seizures. His fever has gone up and down, and you don’t know when it will just shoot up.”

Apart from a fever, his son has also been coughing, sneezing and complaining of a sore throat. Although his son’s condition has improved, Mr Lee remains worried as the boy’s ART result remains positive.

He is also frustrated at the lack of coordination on the ground, as his calls have been bounced around to various agencies.

“If you planned for a steep increase in the number of Covid-19 cases, you should plan your resources,” the IT manager said. “This is poor planning.”

Shared toilet with infected family members

Although Mr Lim’s whole family – his parents, aunt and grandmother – was fully vaccinated against Covid-19, all but one of them contracted the virus.

His parents tested positive last week, and received text messages the same day saying that they would be taken to a hospital or community recovery facility for further care. But they were picked up only two days later, Mr Lim said.

Meanwhile, his aunt – who tested positive at the same time as his parents – has not received any instructions to date. His grandmother, who is in her 80s, is currently in hospital with Covid-19.

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As their home has only two toilets, Mr Lim used the same toilet as his parents while waiting for them to be transferred elsewhere, wiping it down with soap after use.

“But honestly, there was not much sanitisation done. My parents are in their 60s and my aunt is a few years younger – their generation doesn’t really understand,” said Mr Lim, who is in his 30s. “The only thing I could do was isolate myself in my room.” He is the only one in his household not to have contracted the disease so far.

He added that his main gripes were the slow response time and difficulty of getting in touch with the authorities.

“When I called the hotline, out of 10 tries, only two went through, and they reached the automated response,” he said. “Both calls ended up just making me wait and wait with nobody picking up.”

Many calls, no action

Christine tested positive on Sept 15 and was told she would be taken to a community care facility.

But before transport was arranged, she received multiple calls asking her for information such as her address and her children’s details.

“Their system was not updated. They kept calling me and asking the same things, but it was different people calling in,” the 38-year-old said. “There was no sense of urgency.”

Christine, who works in the auto industry, was taken to the community care facility at the Singapore Expo four days after she tested positive for Covid-19. She is still hospitalised there now, although she said her symptoms – a fever, dry throat, stuffy nose and loss of sense of taste and smell – have subsided.

“Over here, I get medicine and they check on you via phone calls,” she said. “We stay in the room and they send us food.”

Her son, who is in secondary school, has also tested positive. He is recovering at home with her two younger daughters, who have not contracted the virus so far. The children are being looked after by Christine’s mother.

This article was first published in The Straits TimesPermission required for reproduction. 

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