Commentary

The big war against Covid-19 may be over, but skirmishes will continue

The worst has been weathered in Singapore's fight against the coronavirus, says the writer. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Singapore will soon be taking a big step towards living with Covid-19 as an endemic disease - one that's always around and always a danger to some, but life will go on for the vast majority.

The most significant easing of measures since the start of the pandemic does not mean that Singapore has won the fight against the coronavirus. It just means that the big war is over, but skirmishes will continue.

And that means some casualties, going forward, are also inevitable. But the worst has been weathered.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong pointed out in his address to the nation on Thursday (March 24): "Right from the start, we had one overriding aim: to protect lives, and prevent as many avoidable deaths as possible."

This, the nation has succeeded in achieving.

Going by deaths relative to population size, Singapore ranks about 150th globally, with 206 deaths per million population. That is less than a tenth of that seen in countries such as the United States, Italy or Britain, which all had between 2,000 and 3,000 deaths per million population.

In Asia, Malaysia had 1,048, Hong Kong had 891 and South Korea had 278 deaths per million population.

Because of the strict measures imposed early on in the pandemic, the early access to vaccines, coupled with the cooperation of almost the entire population, Singapore has emerged relatively unscathed.

As PM Lee pointed out: "We saw in other countries bleak images of people desperately seeking admission into hospitals, and healthcare workers being forced to choose who lived and who died."

Singapore escaped this.

It now has to ensure that two years of hard-won success does not go down the drain as people rush out to enjoy the freedom and socialising they have been missing for so long.

Yes, by all means celebrate - but in a reasonable manner. And if you have symptoms, and find you have Covid-19, give a thought to people who are more vulnerable to the disease, and stay home so you don't spread it to others.

With increased socialising, the number of infections will likely go up. But if everyone continues to do their part, the increase in infections should not be serious enough to derail Singapore's plans to move towards normality.

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Although the Omicron variant is much milder than its predecessor, Delta, it does kill.

In the first three months of this year alone, it has killed about 400 people - and this when 92 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated and 71 per cent of people have received their booster shots.

Some are particularly susceptible to Covid-19, and may die if exposed to it.

These include people with serious chronic diseases that have affected their organs, such as their heart or kidneys, as well as people who are old, whose bodies might not be able to beat the virus, even with the help of vaccines.

For them, the Government is offering a second booster shot.

Their earlier vaccination, as well as the booster, would already give them some protection against severe illness. Unfortunately, the protection is not 100 per cent.

People aged 80 and above and those who have a weakened immune system or have severe chronic disease will be eligible to receive a second booster dose. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Getting a second booster shot should raise their antibody levels to also protect against infection.

People in this group, including those aged 80 years and older, should take advantage of this offer.

The protection against infection from the booster might last only a few months - but these may be the critical months as the virus continues to circulate freely in the community.

There is also still a small group of people who remain unvaccinated, which puts them at higher risk of infection, and of severe illness if infected.

Said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung: "We have about 2.3 per cent of the adult population not fully vaccinated, and they account for about a quarter of severe illnesses, ICUs (intensive care) and deaths in our hospitals."

To protect the healthcare system so both medical personnel and beds can be freed up to treat people with other serious illnesses, vaccine differentiation will continue.

So both businesses and people will have to live with TraceTogether for some time to come, as "it is still the easiest way to check for vaccination status", said Mr Ong.

For the good of the nation, that 2.3 per cent of the adult population still has to be protected.

But, overall, with the easing of border restrictions as well as domestic measures, it will almost be life as normal. Waiting a little longer for the remaining measures to be lifted is both prudent and sensible.

The last thing the nation needs is for recently removed measures to be reimposed as a result of a massive surge in infections, and deaths.

Singapore's War On Covid

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