COVID-19 restrictions to be reviewed in early August, any easing only for vaccinated people: Lawrence Wong
SINGAPORE: Singapore will review some COVID-19 restrictions early next month, but any easing of measures will be only for vaccinated people who are “much better protected” against the virus, said co-chair of the multi-ministry task force Lawrence Wong.
Delivering a ministerial statement in Parliament on Monday (Jul 26), Mr Wong said the task force will assess the overall infection situation in early August, at the mid-point of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert).
By then, two-thirds of the population and three-quarters of those aged 70 and above would have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, said Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister.
“So if the clusters are under control, and hospitalisation rates remain low, we will be able to ease some of the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) measures,” he said.
“But the easing will be differentiated and extended to only vaccinated persons, because they are much better protected against the effects of the virus.”
This means that people who want to dine in at a restaurant or exercise in a gym will have to be fully vaccinated. The same goes for those who want to attend a large event or religious service with more than 100 people, Mr Wong said.
Watch: COVID-19 task force chairs deliver ministerial statements on Government's response to pandemic
TRAVEL POSSIBLE WITHOUT FULL STAY-HOME NOTICE
Singapore’s reopening will be synchronised with the vaccination coverage of its overall population and its “most vulnerable” seniors, said Mr Wong.
The Government expects that around 80 per cent of the population would have received two doses of the vaccine by early September. It hopes to have covered a similar proportion of those aged 70 and above.
Mr Wong said restrictions will then be eased further, including allowing larger groups to get together, especially if they are fully vaccinated.
READ: Return to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) does not change roadmap of treating COVID-19 as endemic: Ong Ye Kung
READ: COVID-19 restrictions to be reviewed in early August, any easing only for vaccinated people: Lawrence Wong
Singapore will also begin to reopen its borders and allow vaccinated people to travel, said the minister.
It will start by setting up travel corridors with countries or regions that have “managed COVID-19 well”, and where the infection is under control.
“So fully vaccinated persons will then be able to travel to these countries or regions without needing to serve the full 14-day stay-home notice in a hotel when they return," Mr Wong said.
Depending on the risk level of the country they visit, the stay-home notice will be replaced with a "rigorous testing regime" or a seven-day isolation period at home.
This will allow vaccinated people to travel more freely, he said. “Those who are not vaccinated can still travel, but will be subject to the prevailing SHN (stay-home notice) requirements.”
READ: 'Practically all' social, workplace COVID-19 restrictions could be lifted in 'truly endemic state': Gan Kim Yong
"SINGAPORE MUST EXPECT CASES TO RISE"
As Singapore progressively eases restrictions, it must expect cases to rise as there is still "ongoing cryptic transmission" which can easily break out into new clusters, said Mr Wong.
As borders open for people to travel without serving stay-home notices, Singapore will also see more imported cases and infected people “slipping through from time to time”.
“But at that stage, our main focus will no longer be on daily case numbers. Because the vast majority by then would have been vaccinated, and even if they catch the virus, they are much less likely to become very ill,” said the minister.
“Instead, our focus will be on the much smaller number of infected persons who need supplementary oxygen or require intensive care.”
At each stage of easing, the Government will monitor the hospitalisation and intensive care numbers to ensure they remain acceptable and stable, said Mr Wong.
If these numbers shoot up, Singapore has to be prepared to "slow down, or even pull back".
New variants may also emerge, and these may be more transmissible, more lethal or more successful at evading the present vaccines.
“We will find solutions to these variants, especially through booster shots or updated vaccines, which we may need to roll out nationwide," Mr Wong said.
“But we must be prepared that the new variants can lead to more severe outbreaks, and may well force us to introduce restrictions again from time to time.”
READ: Students, staff members testing positive for COVID-19 'in tandem' with rise in community cases: MOE
COVID-19 AROUND THE WORLD
In his ministerial statement, Mr Wong said there are still “considerable uncertainties” about how the pandemic will unfold around the world.
“Our best bet is to push ahead with a high level of vaccine coverage for our people. This will give us the best chance to resume more normal lives, while keeping our morbidity and mortality rates low.”
The key is to open up at “the correct juncture”, he said, noting that some countries decided to reopen even though their vaccination rates were “less than ideal”.
For example, the Netherlands lifted restrictions when 45 per cent of its population was vaccinated. Cases surged 10 times to an average of 10,000 a day in two weeks and it has since reimposed restrictions.
The UK, which lifted all restrictions on Jul 19, has about 55 per cent of its population and above 90 per cent of seniors vaccinated. Cases surged to 50,000 a day, more than two-thirds of its peak in the country's last wave, and are likely to rise further, Mr Wong said.
“What is clear to the multi-ministry task force and our medical advisers is that we should be very careful about lifting restrictions when a significant proportion of our people are still not fully vaccinated, especially our more vulnerable seniors,” said the minister.
“While other countries may have come to terms with a certain level of COVID-19 cases and even deaths, this is not the choice we want to make in Singapore ... We do not want to see large numbers of COVID-19 patients in intensive care, on oxygen supplementation, let alone succumb to the virus.”
Singaporeans also should be given “more time”, he said, noting that many younger people are still waiting for their second dose, and many seniors had been hesitant about getting vaccinated.
He urged seniors who have not been vaccinated to come forward to get their jabs.
“Vaccination is key, especially vaccination of our seniors. If many among our seniors are not vaccinated, we will continue to worry about our hospitalisation and ICU cases, as well as fatalities,” he added.
“So I make a special plea to all who remain unvaccinated or have not registered to be vaccinated, especially our parents and grandparents: Please come forward. And if you can’t get out of the house, we will send a team to your homes for the vaccination.”