The Government will keep Singaporean lives, livelihoods and the Singaporean national healthcare system safe during this global uptick in the pandemic.
Hence Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung outlined in Parliament on Monday afternoon (Jan 9) that safe management measures might come back, depending on how SARS-CoV-2 further mutates and spreads worldwide.
“We must then be prepared to hunker down,” said Minister Ong.
“We may need to reinstate measures such as strict border controls, quarantine for travellers, social restrictions including limit on group sizes, until a new and effective vaccine is developed.”
Meanwhile, the Government will maintain Singapore’s current measures — controlling the number of travellers and requiring them to be either fully vaccinated based on WHO definitions or produce a negative pre-departure test (PDT) result before heading to Singapore.
These have worked: Singapore has a low rate of imported infections and even fewer severe cases from China.
“The proof of the pudding”
“But wait!”, one might say. “Shouldn’t we just ban travellers from certain countries?”
“The proof of the pudding is the eating,” said Minister Ong, sharing the outcomes of Singapore’s current measures.
The number of imported infections today is, in fact, only about 5-10 per cent of the total number of infections detected here.
No small feat considering that the month leading up to Jan 1, 2023 was probably one of the most difficult periods of the epidemic in China.
During that period, about 200 travellers from China were detected to be Covid-19 positive, said Minister Ong.
“They accounted for less than 5 per cent of our total imported infections. ASEAN countries accounted for over 50 per cent, rest of Asia around 15 per cent, Europe 11 per cent and Middle East 9 per cent.”
And among all of Singapore’s imported cases, only seven needed hospitalisation. And from these seven, only one of them was from China.
That’s a small number which will not strain Singapore’s healthcare system.
Part of the reason is the low number of flights between Singapore and China. Currently, there are approximately 38 flights shuttling every week between Singapore and China. That’s less than 10 per cent of the 400 weekly flights pre-pandemic.
“The second reason is that we have been maintaining a test requirement for at-risk travellers,” said Minister Ong.
“Travellers have to be either fully vaccinated based on WHO (World Health Organization) definitions or produce a negative pre-departure test (PDT) result before heading to Singapore.”
And this measure will not go away, for the sake of public health and the stability of our healthcare system.
“Unvaccinated and infected travellers coming from anywhere are at risk of severe infection and add to our healthcare load,” said the Minister.
So here, encouraging adequate vaccination amongst all the world’s Singapore-bound travellers — not just from one region — will directly reduce the risk of importing severe cases and protect our hospital system.
Because, as previously and consistently stated, the Government is not for or against a particular country; it is very much only pro-Singapore.
These measures have evolved over the course of the pandemic.
“At the early stages of the pandemic, infections were our primary concern, because it was a disease that could lead to many severe episodes and deaths, and there were no vaccines or treatments available,” said Minister Ong.
“Under those circumstances, we adopted a zero-Covid policy.”
But vaccines and hybrid immunities now highly lessen the severity of Covid-19 infections.
The number of Covid-19 patients in the ICU over the past 30 days is in the single digits, and the past 25 days have seen no Covid-19 deaths.
“Like Influenza, top-line infection numbers should no longer be our preoccupation,” said the Minister, noting that life did continue normally for Singapore despite the 8,500 daily infection cases at the peak of the year-end XBB wave.
Contributing data to GISAID
Instead, the Government’s focus is now on surveilling and curtailing the spread of new virus variants of concern.
“New variants can emerge from anywhere in the world, and not just China,” said Minister Ong.
“For example, we are now watching XBB1.5, which is the dominant variant in the US.”
So Singapore contributes data about the virus to WHO’s Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System (GISAID). This knowledge will help doctors and researchers understand and combat new Covid-19 mutations.
This consistent science-based approach shows that most imported Covid-19 strains from China are known: B.A.5.2 and BF.7.
“This is a huge relief. What we fear and worry most — a new dangerous variant that evades vaccine protection — has not materialised yet,” said the Minister for Health.
“But we will continue to stay vigilant and plug ourselves deeply into the global surveillance system.”
Get your vaccination update!
At ground level, we can do our part for our loved ones as well as our national healthcare system.
This is through getting up-to-date vaccinations.
“I am heartened that most Singaporeans are responding to this,” said Minister Ong.
“As of Dec 31, 2022, about 60 per cent of individuals aged 18 years and above are up-to-date with their vaccinations. With the introduction of the bivalent formulations for both Moderna and Pfizer, I hope more would step forward to get better protection.”
So, kudos to those of us who’ve gotten up-to-date. And if you haven’t yet, these vaccination locations are accessible everywhere across the island.
“As we move into this new norm, we will never be complacent, but our responses need to be based on science, evidence and data,” Minister Ong continued.
“We are ready to adjust policies whenever necessary. We will always do our best to maintain our way of life and not go back to the days of lockdowns unless absolutely necessary.”
Cover photo credit: Ong Ye Kung’s Facebook and Shawnanggg, Unsplash.