After a heightened alert, maybe some respite is on the cards
With community cases down to single digits, experts believe there could be some easing of measures ahead
Singapore recorded two community Covid-19 cases yesterday, the lowest figure since the country moved into phase two (heightened alert) on May 16.
It is also the fourth successive day of community cases numbering in the single digits.
The question now is if safety measures will be eased next week, with phase two slated to end on Sunday.
Professor Dale Fisher, an infectious disease expert from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, believes there could be some relaxation of measures but no widespread loosening.
Speaking to The New Paper, he said: "We are still seeing cases but they are not increasing. So there is no real reason to be more stringent, but it is also hard to justify widespread loosening given the presence of the more infectious variant and that vaccination is still under way."
Both Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic, had said last week that measures could be eased if community infections continued to fall.
The number of new cases in the community has decreased from 126 cases in the week before to 71 cases in the past week.
The number of unlinked community cases has also decreased in the same period - from 26 cases to six cases.
Mr Wong added last week that it is unlikely the country would move into phase three reopening immediately, and Dr Hannah Clapham, an assistant professor from Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at NUS, believes the task force will adopt a calculated approach in deciding how and what measures to ease.
"What measures to relax is a carefully calibrated decision, weighing the possible transmission that could occur in different places and interactions, and the impact of these restrictions on well-being and the economy," she said.
"Case numbers are very low now, and if it continues, we would expect to see a loosening of measures."
On May 14, the Health Ministry announced that dining in would be banned and social gatherings capped at two until June 13, among other tightened measures after a spike in the number of locally transmitted infections.
MOVE PAID OFF
The measures kicked in on May 16, the day the country saw 38 new community cases, 18 of which were unlinked.
Nearly a month later, the case numbers have dropped significantly, an indication that the move to phase two has paid off.
Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious disease specialist from the Rophi Clinic, said: "We may still have some clusters and cases, but the recent decline in the number of unlinked cases is a positive sign.
"It highlights that our contact tracing is working well and is moving faster than any undetected spread of the virus."
Associate Professor Alex Cook of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health said: "The small number of cases we are now seeing in the community show that the measures have been successful, thanks to the efforts and forbearance of the whole community."
On Tuesday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Facebook that over 75 per cent of seniors and eligible adults and 90 per cent of graduating cohorts have signed up or already received at least one vaccine shot.
While some restrictions could be lifted - perhaps allowing some degree of dining in, increasing the maximum size of social gatherings to five and allowing up to 50 per cent of staff to go back to work under split-team arrangements - next week, Prof Fisher believes vaccination numbers hold the key to large-scale easing of measures.
"Come next week, there may be some tweaks in the restrictions but in my view, the focus will be on getting the vaccine programme done. Then we can ease more measures knowing that the disease is no longer a severe illness that kills and overwhelms hospitals," he said.
"Once everyone here has had the opportunity to be vaccinated and 80 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated, we may be able to enjoy greater freedoms like gatherings in much larger groups and travelling."