After almost a month of tightened measures, Singaporeans will welcome the easing of some restrictions today following a steady drop in the number of Covid-19 community cases. If numbers stay low and stable, more activities can resume from next Monday - with appropriate safe management measures in place - such as dining in at food and beverage (F&B) establishments, classes at fitness studios and wedding receptions. This targeted approach of identifying and managing areas of risk was key to why Singapore did not need to go into a full and painful circuit breaker lockdown again. Aggressive testing, comprehensive contact tracing, swift ring-fencing of clusters, and accelerated vaccination helped contain numbers and control the spread of the virus.
While the public can now resume more activities, Singapore is not out of the woods. Until vaccination rates are much higher, strict border controls and work from home will remain in place. It may be another two months before half the population are fully vaccinated, and four more before the overall rate hits at least 75 per cent. Transmission risks remain and must be kept in check by reducing footfall and interactions in workplaces and public spaces. Hidden cases have not been eradicated. So it must be expected that as activities resume, and with more movement in the community, fresh cases will emerge - as happened at each phase of last year's gradual reopening.
As it is likely that Covid-19 will eventually become endemic here, the strategy to keeping the community safe will be to take more aggressive, localised action, and accept that infections may break through every now and then. This needs to be managed through a combination of public health measures, personal precautions and regular vaccinations. Singaporeans must continue to maintain safe distancing, wear masks and observe personal hygiene. Staff working in higher-risk settings with unmasked customers, such as those at F&B establishments, saunas and gyms, will undergo regular Covid-19 testing. The authorities have cushioned the blow of continued restrictions by providing rental relief and extending the Jobs Support Scheme for businesses such as restaurants that cannot yet resume dining in; as well as a relief fund for taxi and private-hire drivers facing lower ridership.
Toughing it out and emerging from the latest month-long tightened measures has clearly demonstrated that the capabilities built up here over the year, culminating in a focused regimen of testing, tracing, localised lockdowns and vaccinations, can stem transmission chains and reduce community cases significantly. It is an approach that has enabled the phased resumption of social and economic activity. It is the blueprint for a return to a new normal, but one which needs the public to continue to play a leading role.