The latest measures to contain the coronavirus pandemic reflect the gravity of an evolving situation, particularly the unsustainable pressure that could be put on intensive care units (ICUs) if the current trend of infection continues. The authorities hope that residents will exercise caution even now with relaxed rules still prevailing so that tighter, more drastic steps will not become necessary. More testing will complement vaccination efforts and booster shots. The hope is that these measures will make it unnecessary for another heightened alert or, worse, another circuit breaker to be imposed. However, those options remain on the table if the number of serious cases needing oxygen and ICU care goes up sharply.
The latest statistics are grim indeed. If Covid-19 continues to spread in the community at the current rate, there could be 2,000 new daily cases in a month. What is disturbing is not so much the absolute number of cases but the rate at which the virus is spreading. The reproduction rate of the coronavirus here, or R value, is currently above one, and cases are doubling every week. The R value measures the average number of people that one infected person will pass the virus on to. The experience of other countries shows that when infections rise very sharply, there would be many more ICU cases and also people dying of the disease. At risk are not only the unvaccinated seniors but also a small proportion of vaccinated people who could fall severely ill. Alarmingly, even that small proportion could mean a sizeable number of ICU cases and deaths eventually.
Given these prospects, Singaporeans should understand the need to do what is necessary to ensure that another round of social tightening measures is unnecessary. At the moment, what they need to do is to reduce non-essential social activities, at least over the next two weeks. This remains voluntary - but only so long as it works. Every step, such as scaling back social interactions, would help slow down the spread of Covid-19. In fact, this should be a reflex action by now, given how Singaporeans in general have behaved responsibly when social activities were curtailed by law during an earlier peak in infections. The habitual ability to adapt to changing life and work patterns will be a defining characteristic of overcoming the pandemic as it assumes endemic shape.
Widening the testing regime will buy Singapore time in which to roll out a vaccine booster programme for seniors. The possibility of giving boosters to younger adults is also being studied. Individuals and companies should embrace the rigorous testing system because it provides a warning mechanism that will help to ringfence infections. The need for boosters reflects the continuing prevalence of the coronavirus and the possible appearance of new, perhaps more lethal, strains. Preparedness remains key to survival.