Singapore still on course for endemic Covid-19: Gan Kim Yong
Minister says adjustments must be made as situation evolves, experts cite vaccination number as key
After an unprecedented circuit breaker that kicked in on April 7 and ended on June 1 last year, Singapore has undergone a few phases of reopening and also returned to phases of stricter safety measures, as Covid-19 cases fluctuated for more than a year.
Yesterday, the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic announced that the country would once again return to phase two (heightened alert), starting tomorrow, after a surge in cases linked to the Jurong Fishery Port and KTV clusters.
The authorities had said on more than one occasion recently that Singapore has to learn to live with Covid-19, and Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, co-chair of the task force, said the country remains on course to meet the objective, despite the return to phase two.
Speaking at the press conference yesterday, he said: "I think we are on an expressway towards the final objective of endemic Covid. But along the way, there will be bumps, and sometimes you may have roadblocks, you may have obstacles, and you may need to make a detour.
"But eventually, when we overcome the roadblocks, we will come back to the expressway and continue the journey.
"So I think we need to continue to plan ahead for our endemic road map but, at the same time, be prepared to make adjustments along the way in response to the evolving situation."
Starting tomorrow, dining in will not allowed at food and beverage establishments.
Group size for social gatherings will be reduced to two and there will be a cap of two visitors for each household a day, among other safety measures.
These measures will run till Aug 18 but will be reviewed two weeks after they are implemented.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, co-chair of the task force, said other than the recent level of exposure at markets and food centres, the task force also made the decision to return to stricter measures after looking at hospital capacity and vaccination numbers.
While the hospitals have headroom, Mr Ong said if infections numbers continue to rise, hospitals will come under significant pressure.
MORE THAN HALF
Singapore's vaccination number have crossed the 50 per cent mark as of Monday, but around 200,000 people aged 60 and above have yet to receive their first dose.
Prof Dale Fisher, professor of medicine, NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine and senior consultant at National University Hospital's division of infectious disease, said the key to Covid-19 being endemic and preventing future lockdowns is vaccination rate.
"Endemic mode policies mean that we are moving away from the strict containment measures. We can ease the restrictions that limit our socialising and get-togethers. We can also ease the quarantine associated with travel," he told The New Paper.
"We can do this when enough of the community is safe and hospitals won't get overwhelmed... this means we need a high rate of community vaccination and this is particularly important in the high-risk group, which is the elderly mostly."
While Singapore is reinstating some tough safety measures, the United Kingdom and Israel have eased restrictions.
According to Our World In Data, Israel's fully vaccinated population was at 60.49 per cent and the UK at 53.18 per cent, as of July 18.
Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at NUS, said these countries have shown Singapore a glimpse of the future.
He told TNP: "The UK and Israel have seen a resurgence in the number of cases despite the high vaccine coverage, but the number of deaths is not anything close to what they had before.
"We may not be able to avoid a surge in cases once we eventually relax measures, but if the vaccination rate is high enough, this need not be accompanied by a surge in severe infections."
Besides a high rate of vaccination, including among seniors, Mr Ong said these countries have also been able to open up as they have undergone waves of "very traumatic transmission" and many in their population are recovered patients with natural immunity.
"When we reach a much more resilient stage, with a much higher percentage of our population fully vaccinated, we can then reopen... with the confidence that even if cases were to reach 100 to 200 cases like today, or even higher, we know we can stay safe and businesses can continue and lives can go on," said Mr Ong.
Pointing to the breaches in safety measures in KTVs, Dr Ling Li Min, an infectious disease physician from Rophi Clinic, said personal responsibility is also crucial in the path towards endemic Covid-19.
She said: "The behaviour we choose to adopt impacts everyone. This Covid battle has been about individual decisions - like following rules or getting vaccinated - made for the good of the collective."
Mr Ong noted that Singapore is on the journey to a Covid-19-resilient economy and society, with no need to resort to a circuit breaker, where most activities come to a halt, to tackle the recent surge in cases.
"I know it may not feel like it, and we seem to move forward and backwards a bit, one step back, three steps forward, two steps back, but the fact is we are on it," he said.
FOR MORE: NO MORE DINING IN AMID STRICTER CURBS TO STEM COVID-19 SPIKE & READ THE STRAITS TIMES