6 key announcements from PM Lee Hsien Loong's address on Covid-19 plans

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong set out what the new normal of living with Covid-19 could look like.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong set out what the new normal of living with Covid-19 could look like.PHOTOS: KELVIN CHNG, KUA CHEE SIONG, ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Monday (May 31) addressed Singaporeans on the country's approach to tackling Covid-19 in a live broadcast.

Here are key announcements from his speech, in which he set out what the new normal of living with Covid-19 could look like.

1. Singapore on track to relaxing restrictions after June 13



Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that the number of new cases reported daily has fallen since Singapore went on heightened alert with stricter measures. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Barring another superspreader event or big cluster, the nation should be on track to bringing the current outbreak under control and easing tightened restrictions after June 13, PM Lee said.

He noted that the number of daily cases has come down, thanks to the support of Singaporeans, and that the authorities should know for sure "in a week or so".

If the Covid-19 situation continues to improve and the number of community cases falls further, Singapore should be able to relax restrictions, he added. In the meantime, he called on everyone to keep up their efforts, remain vigilant, work from home if possible, and go out only if necessary.

Those who are unwell should see a doctor immediately, even if they have been vaccinated, said PM Lee.

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2. DIY Covid-19 test kits to be sold at pharmacies


The self-administered test kits will be the latest in Singapore's range of coronavirus-testing options. PHOTO: REUTERS

Self-administered test kits for the coronavirus, which will be less uncomfortable than regular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab tests and easier to use, will soon be available for purchase over the counter at pharmacies, said PM Lee.

He said such kits will be useful for front-line workers who want to test themselves frequently or for anyone else who is concerned about being infected.

These are just some of the many alternatives to PCR tests being rolled out or evaluated here, including antigen rapid tests (ARTs), saliva tests, breathalysers and wastewater surveillance.

This is in line with Singapore's strategy to test faster, and more liberally and extensively, to quickly detect Covid-19 cases and isolate them and ring-fence their contacts promptly before the virus spreads further.

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3. Routine testing to be carried out in work, social and other normal settings


Taxi drivers, sports and fitness instructors, educators and stage performers are among those who could be tested regularly. PHOTOS: ST FILE

The authorities will routinely and regularly test people who appear well, in normal work, social or community settings, said PM Lee.

The wider testing is in response to the virus mutating to become more transmissible.

PM Lee noted that rostered routine testing (RRT) is already being carried out in a number of higher-risk settings such as migrant worker dormitories, construction worksites, shipyards, air and sea ports, hospitals and nursing homes.

With faster and cheaper tests available, it can be done at more workplaces, such as offices, restaurants and shopping malls.

Those whose occupations involve close contact with many people and could result in superspreading events - such as taxi drivers, performers, masseurs and educators - could be tested more regularly.

Extensive testing will give Singapore the confidence to resume larger-scale gatherings, PM Lee said, adding that routine, large-scale, fast and simple testing is expected to be part of the new normal.

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4. Household members of close contacts of Covid-19 cases to be isolated


Residents queueing for swab tests at Block 506 Hougang Ave 8 on May 21, 2021. Whole households will be isolated if one of its members is a close contact of a Covid-19 case, said PM Lee. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

PM Lee said past experience has shown that an infected person is quite likely to infect others who live in the same household.

In future, household members of those identified as close contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case will also be told to isolate themselves, instead of waiting to see if the close contact tests positive.

If the close contact later tests negative, the household members can be safely released from isolation, but if the result is positive, the authorities will have saved precious time by isolating the household members earlier, said PM Lee.

This more aggressive approach is intended to help shut down clusters more quickly, even as Singapore continues to improve its contact tracing operations.

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5. Faster vaccine deliveries to come, vaccination for students to begin on June 1


Priority will be given to students sitting their O-, N- and A-level examinations, as well as special needs students. PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG, ST FILE

PM Lee announced that Singapore has received further confirmation of faster vaccine deliveries over the next two months.

The latest supply schedule will allow the country to further boost its vaccination programme, and offer the vaccine to everyone sooner than expected.

Those 60 and above can now walk into any vaccination centre and get vaccinated without an appointment.

The next group to be vaccinated will be students, PM Lee said, noting that the latest outbreak has had more cases of children getting infected in schools and tuition centres.

Bookings will open on June 1, with priority given to graduating cohorts for O, N and A levels, as well as special needs students.

Other students aged 12 and above will be next, including students in institutions of higher learning.

After Singapore has vaccinated students, it will move on to vaccinate the final remaining group, young adults aged 39 and younger, around mid-June, PM Lee said.

Noting that this group is quite large, he said the Singaporeans among them will be given a two-week priority window to book their appointments first, before the Government opens it up to the rest who want to be vaccinated.

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6. Singapore must prepare to live with Covid-19


While the global pandemic will subside one day, PM Lee said, he does not expect Covid-19 to disappear. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

While the global pandemic will subside one day, PM Lee said, he does not expect Covid-19 to disappear.

The virus will become endemic and continue to circulate in pockets of the global population for years to come, he added.

This means Singapore will see small outbreaks of the disease from time to time as well, and Singaporeans will have to learn to carry on with their lives even with the virus in their midst in this new normal.

At the same time, Covid-19 becoming endemic means Singapore has to stay connected to the world, with effective safeguards and border restrictions to keep Singaporeans safe, he said.

While the country will not be able to prevent some infected people from slipping through from time to time, he said that as long as the population is mostly vaccinated, Singapore should be able to trace, isolate and treat the cases that pop up, and prevent a severe and disastrous outbreak.

PM Lee envisioned a future where people in Singapore may take booster shots every year.

"We will get tested often, but it will be fast and easy," he said. "We will go to work or school, meet friends and family, participate in religious services, and enjoy entertainment and sports events.

"We will reopen our borders safely. Visitors will again come to Singapore. Singaporeans will travel again to countries where the disease is well under control, especially if we have been vaccinated."

Eventually, PM Lee said, people will be able to go about without masks again, at least outdoors.

While the country is still "some ways off" from this, he said it is heading in the right direction.

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