“We are neither the tightest or the most liberal, but somewhere in between, and we do not discriminate because severe cases can originate from any country, as shown by our data,” said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung in his Ministerial Statement in Parliament on Jan 9, 2023.
Although he was referring to our border control measures pertaining to the opening of China, the same sentence could be applied to the PAP Government’s strategy since the beginning of the pandemic.
Balanced, pragmatic and always driven by an evidence-based approach.
When the pandemic began to swept through the globe in 2020, it was evident that the entire world was dealing with an unprecedented event, a crisis of a generation.
You may remember the stringent safe management measures which included the Circuit Breaker in April 2020 and aggressive contact tracing.
Such drastic measures were absolutely necessary as there was no vaccine available. The Multi-Ministry Taskforce looked at the facts available then and made the call for a zero-Covid approach in order to save lives.
From zero-Covid to endemicity: a step-by-step approach
Perhaps the PAP Government’s strategy could be best explained by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
In Nov 2021, PM Lee, at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum, said that the PAP Government’s approach is all about reaching the end point without paying the high price which many other societies have paid, where people got infected before they got vaccinated.
“If we took the Freedom Day approach, cases will rise and that will be upsetting to the population because that means tightening up restrictions again.
So, I think it is better we take it step by step. I am not absolutely certain that I can do this without any misstep, I may have to step on the brakes again from time to time, but that is my game plan.”
When vaccinations became available, the PAP Government urged Singaporeans to take their shots, and thus the road toward endemicity began in earnest.
Over time, coupled with the fact that the Singaporeans are socially conscious, we became one of the countries in the world with the highest vaccination rates.
Girded and buoyed by this high vaccination rate, the PAP Government can then loosen measures and focus on tracking the number of patients who need intensive care rather than the number of infection cases that seized the population in the earlier days of Covid.
“Hence, with extensive vaccination coverage, we can treat Covid-19 as an endemic disease. Like Influenza, top line infection numbers should no longer be our pre-occupation. At the peak of the year end XBB wave last year, we were registering a 7-day moving average of about 8,500 infection cases a day. Despite the high topline number, we carried on living life normally, we did not impose further social restrictions. We did without masks,” said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung in the same Ministerial Statement.
All these small yet morale-boosting victories were made possible by being guided by science and facts and not swayed by sentiment.
This evidence-based approach has served us well, providing us with a logical and coherent set of principles while remaining flexible when circumstances change.
And while the war is not over, Singapore is doing well. As pointed out by PM Lee in his 2023 New Year’s message, if the situation continues to be stable we can take the final steps to lift the remaining social restrictions, to establish post pandemic normalcy.