Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's address to the nation last Saturday gave a reasoned account of a strategy of living with the coronavirus pandemic, with a "new normal" expected to lie between three and six months away. This strategy is founded on the recognition of the difficulty of eradicating the Delta variant and the need to inject a degree of sustained predictability into the flow of economic and social life in Singapore in the meantime. Health protocols are being simplified domestically. Internationally, Singapore is taking steps to carefully restore travel links with others via vaccinated travel lanes, and began with Germany and Brunei. South Korea, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain and the United States are next. It is not tenable for a trade and economic hub like Singapore to be shut off from much of the world indefinitely.
Singapore's transition from its original "zero-Covid" strategy places these moves in perspective. That approach made sense when the population was not yet vaccinated and the consequences of falling ill were deadly serious. Hence, safe management and other measures were an appropriate response to stem the chain of transmission even as steps were taken to secure vaccines and to learn more about this virus. The situation changed significantly with the appearance of the highly infectious Delta variant and the ease with which it could spread. Lockdowns and safe management measures, helpful as they are, were not a fail-safe way to stamp it out.
Yet, even these dire circumstances possess a silver lining. Vaccination was a key strategy. And as government and health experts have explained, the situation today is unlike last year, when the consequences of infection were severe. Now, widespread vaccination has meant that more than 98 per cent of cases have mild or no symptoms and can recover at home, easing the strain on hospitals, care facilities and their staff. Covid-19 is now no longer as dangerous for most Singaporeans. Its threat is primarily to seniors: those aged 60 and above who are not vaccinated, and 80 and above even if they are vaccinated. This underlines the critical need for seniors to get their jabs, and boosters, and for all seniors to minimise social interactions to better protect themselves and their families.
Moving forward, the population at large needs to come to terms with the fact that Covid-19 is endemic and is likely to remain so for some time to come. That is where many developed societies have moved to, allowing life to return to some semblance of normalcy. In such a situation, while Covid-19 remains a health risk, the daily number of cases need not strike undue fear and overwhelm society psychologically. Singapore has medical, human and other resources to see itself through this crisis.