As parliament heard on Monday, Singapore has a strategy to synchronise its reopening with its vaccination coverage – not just of the overall population, but of seniors who are the most vulnerable to the effects of Covid-19.
The strategy will be put in place through a series of controlled steps. Thus, in early August, at the mid-point of the phase 2 (heightened alert) period, the authorities plan to review the current set of measures. They will assess the overall infection situation, as well as monitor the status of the infected cases, to confirm that the link between infection and hospitalisation has been weakened by the vaccines.
As for the pace of vaccination, by then, two-thirds of the population here would have received two doses, and inoculation would have covered about three-quarters of seniors aged 70 and above. Hence, if clusters are under control and hospitalisation rates remain low, Singapore should be able to ease some heightened alert measures now in place. That would constitute a considerable relief from the battering that the economy and society continue to take from the pandemic.
However, apart from the fact that only the vaccinated will be allowed to benefit from the loosened restrictions, it is important for Singaporeans to understand that restrictions may need to be reimposed, in a calibrated process and possibly at short notice.
In particular, the country has to expect new coronavirus variants to emerge. These could pose a different set of challenges as they could be more transmissible and lethal. Then, booster shots would be necessary and, indeed, updated vaccines may need to be rolled out nationwide, replicating the inoculation process currently underway.
Psychologically, then, it is important for residents to understand that meeting such an epidemiological crisis may not happen in one decisive go at any point of time, but through a series of incremental and coordinated steps whose cumulative effects would represent a road map out of the crisis. In the meantime, the imposition of corresponding restrictions on social movement would complement any medical steps that need to be taken.
Already, the government is remodelling health protocols to treat Covid-19 as an endemic disease. Hence, more people who have Covid-19 but with no or mild symptoms will first be admitted directly to community care facilities instead of hospitals.
The new normal also calls for greater use of home quarantine. Scarce medical resources must be reserved for the most serious cases for, otherwise, the healthcare system could be overwhelmed by a sudden upsurge of cases, as has occurred in other countries. The clearer road map outlined in Parliament should give hope to businesses and society of a steady if not speedier recovery process once the situation stabilises. But residents, too, need to stay ever vigilant.
THE STRAITS TIMES (SINGAPORE)/ASIA NEWS NETWORK