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‘Now not groping at midnight’: NCID docs share how COVID-19 is being handled in Singapore

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SINGAPORE: Singapore was one of many first nations in Asia to see COVID-19 instances again in January, when little or no was identified in regards to the illness, and it was one of many first locations the place there was group unfold.

9 months on, the nation has recorded extra than 57,000 COVID-19 instances, however this can be a fraction of the tens of thousands and thousands of infections world wide.

Thus far, 28 individuals have died of COVID-19 in Singapore – one of many lowest mortality charges on the earth. Within the US, the place there have been about 8 million instances, greater than 200,000 individuals have died.

As of Friday (Oct 16), 30 COVID-19 sufferers remained hospitalised in Singapore, with none in intensive care. Greater than 99 per cent of these contaminated have been discharged, whereas there have been 59 in group care services.

READ: 64-year-old man is Singapore’s 28th COVID-19 fatality; first in three months

However it wasn’t all the time like this. Three Nationwide Centre for Infectious Illnesses (NCID) consultants instructed CNA how remedy of the novel coronavirus has developed right here and the way NCID has saved the variety of essential instances low.

The preliminary phases of the outbreak had been fraught with uncertainty, stated Dr Ray Lin Junhao, 37, an infectious illness guide at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and NCID.

He was concerned within the direct care of COVID-19 sufferers, together with those that had been critically in poor health. Dr Lin was additionally a co-investigator in a number of medical trials that evaluated therapeutics for the illness.

“With the advances in analysis over the previous few months, we now have a greater thought of what remedy works and what doesn’t. Though the efficacy of the at present obtainable remedy is modest, not less than we’re not groping at midnight,” stated Dr Lin.


One of many variations between the COVID-19 pandemic and former outbreaks has been the huge quantity of details about the coronavirus on the Web and social media, obtainable to each docs and most people.

This has influenced the course of the present pandemic, he stated. Within the early days of the outbreak, experiences of potential therapies for COVID-19 made it “tempting” to make use of them on the sickest sufferers, he added. 

“As a doctor, it’s in our nature to wish to give some type of remedy to our sufferers, even when unproven, relatively than to face by passively and hope for the very best … This was a relentless wrestle within the preliminary part of the outbreak,” he stated.

Nevertheless, the potential harms of unproven remedy are actual, resembling within the case of hydroxychloroquine, he stated.

The anti-malaria drug, which was endorsed by US President Donald Trump early within the pandemic, was stated in small research to be a possible remedy however proved throughout medical trials to have little profit. The World Well being Group (WHO) has since halted trials of the drug. 

UPDATED MAP: All the places that COVID-19 community cases visited while they were infectious

READ: COVID-19: Singapore, Hong Kong attain in-principle settlement to determine bilateral air journey bubble

Dr Mucheli Sharavan Sadasiv, 37, stated that there was a sense of helplessness within the early days, due to the uncertainty as a result of all of the unknowns.

“I believe it is regular to really feel that approach. Being exhausted bodily and mentally didn’t assist as nicely. As time has passed by, we’ve learnt a lot extra in regards to the sickness and that helps us with our work in taking good care of sufferers,” stated the infectious ailments doctor, who has been concerned within the implementation of the convalescent plasma programme for COVID-19 in Singapore. 

Dr Mucheli Sharavan Sadasiv NCID
Dr Mucheli Sharavan Sadasiv, a guide on the Nationwide Centre for Infectious Illnesses (NCID). (Picture: NCID)

For instance, one of the crucial efficient methods of conserving sufferers alive within the early days was flipping them round to lie inclined – or on their entrance – as an alternative of on their backs after they had been on ventilators. 

Inclined-position air flow was one of many few early interventions that considerably helped the sufferers within the intensive care unit (ICU), stated Dr Lin. 

“These sufferers had been so severely affected by COVID-19 that even with the utmost help from the ventilator, we had been unable to realize enough oxygenation.” 

However the easy manoeuvre helped sufferers breathe simpler and take in oxygen higher, shopping for time for the physique to recuperate as there was no efficient remedy at that level within the outbreak.

READ: COVID-19 pandemic creates ‘surge’ of flawed analysis


Different features have change into clearer as nicely, for instance, figuring out which sufferers would possibly get sick, and those that would possibly want nearer consideration, the docs stated.

“I’ve rather more confidence in counselling sufferers on their situation now,” stated Dr Lee Tau Hong, 39.

“Now, with the data we’ve, we’re capable of allay affected person fears and the doubts that we’ve with regard to this illness.”

Dr Lee Tau Hong, consultant at NCID
Dr Lee Tau Hong, a guide on the Nationwide Centre for Infectious Illnesses (NCID). (Picture: NCID)

That data has led to clear classification tips for sufferers at increased threat of extreme illness, in addition to remedy tips, drafted by the nationwide COVID-19 therapeutic workgroup lead by Dr Shawn Vasoo, medical director of NCID.  

As vice-chair of the Chapter of Infectious Illness Physicians, School of Physicians Singapore, Dr Lee supplied feedback through the drafting of the interim remedy tips. He additionally handled COVID-19 sufferers, drafted medical workflows and was a co-investigator in a number of analysis publications.

For example, it is now identified that older sufferers, and these with underlying situations resembling coronary heart illness or diabetes, in addition to those that are overweight, are at increased threat of growing extreme illness.

READ: Britain rations remdesivir as COVID-19 hospitalisations rise

Dr Lee stated that early prognosis and identification of sufferers liable to growing extreme illness had been a number of the most essential components which have helped sufferers. For extreme instances, medicines resembling remdesivir and dexamethasone have confirmed efficient.

NCID collaborated with Gilead and the US’ Nationwide Institutes of Well being for the remdesivir medical trials.

Explaining how the medication work, Dr Lee stated that remdesivir is an anti-viral agent that acts instantly on the SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 – thus decreasing the dangerous results of the illness. 

Dexamethasone, a generally used corticosteroid, helps to dampen irritation, as sufferers can develop extreme illness as a result of overwhelming irritation within the physique that’s triggered by the viral an infection.

The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Cairo
FILE PHOTO: A lab technicians holds COVID-19 remedy drug remdesivir at Eva Pharma Facility in Cairo, Egypt June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

READ: NCID tips advocate use of dexamethasone for sufferers with ‘extreme’ COVID-19

READ: Fauci says ‘moderately good likelihood’ Regeneron antibody remedy helped Trump

Dr Lin stated he observed {that a} good variety of sufferers at NCID improved extra quickly on remdesivir when it was trialled there. It shortened the common size of keep within the ICU for sufferers on the examine.

“Ultimately, we had been confirmed proper with the official launch of the trial outcomes, which confirmed remdesivir to be the primary drug with confirmed efficacy in opposition to SARS-CoV-2,” he stated.

Mr Trump, who contracted COVID-19 greater than two weeks in the past, was handled with each medication in addition to an antibody cocktail developed by US biotechnology firm Regeneron. Antibodies are proteins produced by the physique to struggle in opposition to ailments.

It has been reported that the neutralising antibodies had been developed by the US drug firm with blood samples from three NCID sufferers who recovered from COVID-19. 

Affiliate Professor David Lye, senior guide and director of NCID’s Infectious Illness Analysis and Coaching Workplace stated the centre had responded to a request for collaboration from Regeneron, with no declare of mental property proper. 

As a part of the collaboration, NCID was requested to recruit as much as 20 sufferers who had recovered from COVID-19, to gather samples. After acquiring sufferers’ knowledgeable consent, it recruited 5 sufferers and had been instructed by Regeneron that they’d sufficient samples. 

FILE PHOTO: The Regeneron Pharmaceuticals company logo is seen on a building at the company's
FILE PHOTO: The Regeneron Prescription drugs firm brand is seen on a constructing on the firm’s Westchester campus in Tarrytown, New York, US on Sep 17, 2020. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

“They finally used the samples from three of our 5 sufferers, as the place to begin for analysis utilizing their expertise to develop their monoclonal antibodies,” he stated.

Monoclonal antibodies are based mostly on pure antibodies, however are created in laboratories and may be mass produced.

Dr Lee stated that he had a affected person who had an uncomplicated an infection however was very grateful and wished to contribute not directly. After he recovered, he volunteered to donate his plasma, which include antibodies in opposition to the virus.

“There have been many different sufferers who agreed to take part in medical trials. They had been randomly assigned to be given a placebo or remdesivir … I want to take the chance to thank our sufferers,” he stated.

NCID’s interim remedy tips state that additional knowledge is required for interferon beta-based therapies and convalescent plasma, amongst others.

“Though we have already got some solutions, we nonetheless await the outcomes of some essential trials which might be ongoing,” stated Dr Sadasiv.


When requested why Singapore has seen low charges of fatalities and extreme instances, the docs stated that one of many primary causes was that most of the sufferers had been younger and wholesome, as nearly all of the instances in Singapore had been migrant employees.

Early entry to medical care and good supportive remedy have been essential components as nicely.

“The well being system (has not been) overwhelmed by too many sick instances, in contrast to in another nations with increased mortality,” stated Dr Sadasiv. “I believe this has allowed us to have the ability to cope with critically in poor health sufferers higher.”

Dr Lin stated the good public well being response to include group unfold within the early a part of the outbreak prevented hospitals in Singapore from being overwhelmed.

“This additionally purchased us a lot wanted time to raised perceive the virus, the illness and for an efficient remedy to emerge,” he stated.

READ: Ebola drug remdesivir used to deal with COVID-19 sufferers in Singapore as a part of medical trials

He added that analysis on COVID-19 in Singapore was achieved at a velocity and with a stage of coordination that was unprecedented, and this knowledge and proof helped information the evaluation and remedy of sufferers.

This info was then disseminated to the docs on the bottom by the Well being Ministry and NCID.

“By the point the instances surged, we knew sufficient in regards to the illness to have the ability to establish sufferers who had been liable to problems and to allocate the required sources and remedy wanted to enhance their outcomes,” he stated.

Dr Sadasiv stated that the entire course of has been a humbling expertise, as completely different departments and businesses labored collectively to sort out the pandemic.

“It has taught me to embrace uncertainty and to know our limitations. It was a problem to maintain as much as tempo with the increasing info and the various adjustments to workflows and processes. I hope I’ve learnt to have extra gratitude too,” he stated.

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