SINGAPORE - The biggest enemy today is not the Covid-19 virus but complacency and letting one's guard down because life seems back to normal, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.
Noting that Asean member states have managed to weather the storm thanks to close cooperation, he suggested focusing on testing and surveillance, vaccinations as well as ensuring the resilience of travel lanes and supply chains to prepare for future threats.
Mr Ong was speaking at the 15th Health Ministers Meeting and Related Meetings in Bali on Saturday (May 14). He and his Asean counterparts shared updates and exchanged views on strengthening healthcare systems in the region to improve the collective preparedness to pandemics.
"In the coming few months, we are all likely to see new waves in our countries, either a resurgence of the Omicron wave as our societal immunity wanes, or a new variant that drives reinfections.
"A more dangerous threat is a new virus, which is bound to come as human activities continue to encroach into nature, and humans and animals continue to come into close contact," said Mr Ong.
To be better prepared than member states were when Covid-19 first struck, Mr Ong suggested enhancing testing and surveillance.
Calling the establishment of the Asean Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases a breakthrough, he said: "This forms the nucleus of a regular monitoring and good surveillance capabilities and response system in our region. This will give us early warning of new Covid-19 variants of concern and other emerging infectious diseases."
Mr Ong also noted the importance of making vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics available and urged members to not stop vaccination and booster shot programmes as immunity will wane over time, and there is a risk that current vaccines will be less effective against the next variant of concern.
Asean can also collaborate better to ensure that vaccine supplies are available to those who need them, such as by doing more to facilitate vaccine donations and swops among member states, said Mr Ong.
He also encouraged members to ensure the resilience of travel lanes and supply chains since the pandemic contributed to an unprecedented rise in shipping costs, which has not subsided, as well as disrupted travel.
Mr Ong said the establishment of an Asean mutual recognition system for vaccine certificates was discussed over the weekend-long meeting.
He noted that after establishing such a system, similar systems can be forged with other regions, such as the United States, China, India and the European Union.
"Checking for vaccination certifications may well be the norm for travel, just as we check our bags and our passports," he said.
During the weekend trip, Mr Ong held bilateral meetings with his counterparts from Indonesia, Thailand and Brunei.
He said: "Singapore looks forward to continuing to work closely with Asean member states in our efforts and accelerate our response to be ready for the next Covid-19 wave, or even the next pandemic."