Singapore has decided to hit the pause button on its reopening plans, in keeping with the need to adapt flexible measures quickly to deal with the evolving nature of the coronavirus pandemic. Covid-19 cases are surging despite the high vaccination rates, and may exceed 1,000 cases a day. The rapid and exponential increase is, no doubt, a cause for concern. The number of cases has doubled twice since Aug 23, and by official estimates, daily cases could peak at 3,200. These figures should concentrate minds on the need for preventive action so the healthcare system is not overwhelmed, particularly by the number of people who are in intensive care units (ICUs) and those in need of oxygen support. The number of deaths might likely be a grim corollary of this trend.
It is more crucial to look at the severely ill than just the overall number of cases in order to put the pandemic in realistic perspective. These ICU numbers and those requiring oxygen support need close watching in the next weeks. If they rise along a trajectory similar to the total number of cases, then additional measures might be unavoidable to slow transmissions. But if the number of such cases is relatively stable or displays a gradual increase, the authorities might have less reason to fear that resources in hospitals will not be sufficient to cope.
Healthcare resources have also to be focused on those who are in greatest medical need. Hence the move to let fully vaccinated Covid-19 patients with mild or no symptoms recover at home as the default care arrangement for more patients. In doing so, scarce resources can be deployed better, rather than the previous focus on differentiating between linked and unlinked cases. The time-consuming, resource-intensive contact tracing process which exists is being adjusted as Singapore moves to treat Covid-19 as endemic, such as is the case for the flu.
Living with Covid-19 means accepting that the virus is pervasive and managing it, without the need to chase after the source of each and every case or cluster.
That requires a delicate balance in approach and messaging if Singapore is to feel its way forward to some semblance of normal life. Vaccination remains critical. All who can should avail themselves of this protection. But that alone is no panacea, and not sufficient to beat the more infectious Delta strain of this pernicious virus. Well-drilled measures, such as safe distancing, frequent hand-washing, and curbing social interactions remain essential. While everyone would prefer to speed along a through road ahead to opening up the economy and lifting social restrictions, the virus pays little heed to what humans wish or want. Defeating it calls for continued patience, discipline and solidarity.