Published on : Tuesday, July 27, 2021
Singapore will review its Covid-19 restrictions in early August, and can ease some measures if virus clusters are under control and hospitalisation rates remain low. On Monday, July 26, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said that any loosened restrictions will be extended only to vaccinated individuals, who are better protected against the effects of the virus.
During a ministerial statement he mentioned that people will have to be fully vaccinated if they want to attend a large event or a religious service involving more than 100 persons, if they want to go out to dine in a restaurant or work out in a gym. Mr Wong said Singapore will be able to further ease restrictions around September, when about 80 per cent of the population are expected to have got the full two doses of the vaccine.
This will include allowing fully vaccinated people to travel to areas where the Covid-19 situation is under control without serving the 14-day stay home notice (SHN) in a hotel. He noted that by early August around two-thirds of Singapore’s population would have received the full two doses and some three-quarters of seniors aged 70 and above would also have been vaccinated. He mentioned that authorities are hopeful that by early September, about 80 per cent of seniors aged 70 and up would be fully vaccinated.
Singapore will then allow larger groups to gather, especially if all are fully vaccinated. It will also begin to reopen its borders for travel, especially for vaccinated people. The minister shared that the country will start by establishing travel corridors with countries or regions that have managed Covid-19 well, and where the infection is similarly under control. He said that instead of serving the 14-day SHN in a hotel, fully vaccinated people who travel to these areas will instead likely undergo a rigorous testing regime or serve a shorter seven-day SHN at home, depending on the risk level of the place they visit.
However, unvaccinated individuals will be subject to the prevailing requirements. He said that Singapore will continue with a series of “progressive easings” and as it does so, the country must expect Covid-19 cases to rise partly because there are still “cryptic” cases being transmitted in the community. He shared that imported cases are also likely to rise as Singapore opens its borders. However, he mentioned, that the main 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.
At each stage of easing, Singapore will monitor Covid-19 patients’ health outcomes especially hospitalisation rates and intensive care unit usage. Mr. Wong said these must be deemed “acceptable and stable” before the country moves to the next step else it might have to slow down or even pull back on reopening if the numbers shoot up. The minister added that Singapore must be prepared for new variants that may be more transmissible or lethal to emerge.
In his statement, Mr Wong also explained why the task force made the crucial decision to return to phase of heightened alert. He said that the stricter rules that scale back activities help slow down transmission and give the country time to push vaccination rates up further, protecting seniors. He pointed out that vaccinated individuals may experience very mild symptoms when infected, inadvertently becoming asymptomatic carriers.
Facing a heightened risk of widespread community transmission before enough people attained adequate vaccine protection made Singapore decide to tighten the rules. At present, the proportion of people who are fully vaccinated is still less than 50 per cent. He mentioned that upon reopening, the vaccination of seniors is the key. In a separate statement, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung pointed out that Singapore is one of the few countries to have come through the last 20 months with very few fatalities, and is unique even among countries and regions which have access to vaccines.
Some countries such as the United States and United Kingdom went through major episodes of widespread transmission, while others such as Australia and New Zealand kept the pandemic under control but are now finding it difficult to get their people vaccinated. He said this makes Singapore the only country in the world, which has not suffered a collapse of neither hospitals nor a high death toll, and at the same time achieved a very high vaccination rate in the population.