Latest strategy is geared towards living with Covid-19 virus
Singapore aims to avoid nationwide restrictions through aggressive testing, contact tracing and vaccination
While Singapore has managed to bring under control the latest spike in infections, the public will have to get used to living with the Covid-19 virus for the foreseeable future as it is unlikely to be eradicated soon.
And as the country gears up for a loosening of safety measures starting next week, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic, said that moving forward, the aim is to avoid nationwide restrictions as far as possible.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Mr Wong said: "We will take more aggressive, localised actions, and we will try our very best to avoid having to impose general nationwide restrictions like another circuit breaker.
"We think that is the way to live with the virus while enabling most activities to resume."
The Ministry of Health announced yesterday that Singapore will move back to phase three (heightened alert) from phase two (heightened alert) in two phases, starting on Monday.
As part of the first stage of reopening, the social gathering size limit will go up from two to five, and the operating capacity limits for attractions, cruises, museums and public libraries will increase from 25 per cent to 50 per cent, among other changes. Working from home will remain the default.
Dining in at food and beverage outlets in groups of five will be allowed from June 21 as part of the second phase.
The country entered phase two on May 16 after a surge in local community cases, and the task force yesterday cited measures such as contact tracing, aggressive testing, extensive ring-fencing, localised lockdowns and vaccinations as reasons the spike was brought under control, allowing the move back to phase three as scheduled.
Health Minister and task force co-chair Ong Ye Kung said such tactics will continue to be vital in controlling the chain of transmissions in the event of any future outbreak - instead of opting for "a very blanket approach and a very painful circuit breaker".
Experts The New Paper spoke to said the strategy to try and stave off the imposition of tough controls is the right way to go.
Dr Hannah Clapham, assistant professor at the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said: "This is a sensible way forward - a careful, calibrated adjustment of a good suite of measures with intensities that change as case numbers, transmissions and vaccinations in the population change."
Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, agreed, adding that the current strategy to tackle the virus has already saved thousands of lives.
"The strategy for the next and hopefully final stage of the pandemic is to move away from restrictions that are broad-based, costly and socially damaging and rely on vaccination and targeted measures instead," he added.
Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, co-chair of the task force, said as the country opens up, there is still a possibility the number of community cases may rise.
"We will need to accelerate our testing, our vaccination (programme) and our contract tracing to keep the numbers low," he added.
Professor Dale Fisher, an infectious disease expert from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, emphasised the importance of the vaccination programme when he said: "There is no doubt the best thing an individual can do to protect themselves is get vaccinated.
"At a community level, vaccination will allow us to avoid circuit breakers, remove more social restrictions, and eventually open our borders."
Mr Wong said vaccination is the key to bringing infection rates down.
"We expect 50 per cent of the people in Singapore to be fully vaccinated by August. And by October, we should reach an overall vaccination rate of 75 per cent, or hopefully more... As we progress through these stages, we will ease our restrictions and gradually restore our normal lives, both within Singapore and at our borders."