SINGAPORE - As Singapore deals with successive waves of Covid-19, it should find itself growing more resilient, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Tuesday (Dec 14).
This means not returning to the strict restrictions implemented during the circuit breaker - or even those put in place during the phase two (heightened alert) period earlier this year.
"We have to try our best to be able to open up gradually," the minister added. "And each time we see another wave, new clusters forming, we don't have to throttle all the way back into very painful, safe social restrictions."
While such restrictions cannot be ruled out, they must be a last resort, Mr Ong said.
The multi-ministerial task force tackling the pandemic on Tuesday gave reporters an overview of how Singapore is gearing up for a potential surge in cases driven by the Omicron variant.
This includes ramping up bed spaces for Covid-19 patients in hospitals and community treatment facilities, as well as making testing more accessible in order to pick up cases early.
Vaccination-differentiated measures will also be expanded to cover a wider range of settings, including all indoor sports facilities and institutes of higher learning.
Although just 16 Omicron cases have been detected in Singapore so far, it is "only a matter of time" before community transmission takes place, the authorities said.
Overseas data suggests that this new variant is more transmissible than the Delta strain, although there are also signs that it causes milder illness.
Singapore cannot shut its borders because the country still aims to live with Covid-19, Mr Ong said.
"We can't say, for the Delta variant, 'Let's live with Covid', but for the Omicron variant, 'Let's have a zero-Covid policy'," he pointed out.
"It's not coherent. It doesn't work that way - especially given that we have come this far, we have ridden through a big Delta wave together, we have built up our defences, we have gotten life somewhat back to normal."
It is also not realistic to keep the Omicron variant out by shutting all borders, given that the virus has already spread to more than 60 countries, the minister added.
Singapore's temporary travel ban on visitors from affected African countries instead serves to buy Singapore time, so that it can better understand the new variant, he said.
"We have to learn to live with Omicron, as we have with Delta."
Speaking at Tuesday's press conference, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong stressed that it is important for people to keep exercising personal responsibility, given that what Singapore is experiencing now is "perhaps the calm before the next storm".
This means complying with safe management measures and getting into the habit of self-testing.
With the number of cases coming down over the last few weeks, people are hoping that things will improve before too long, the minister observed. "Unfortunately, the pandemic is not ending soon... We do have to brace ourselves for the Omicron wave."
Singapore saw a rise in Covid-19 cases driven by the Delta variant between September and November, with infection numbers peaking on Oct 27, when 5,324 cases were reported in a single day.
But case numbers have come down since, with the country reporting 339 cases and four deaths on Monday.
"We have dealt with such waves before and we can do it again," Mr Wong said. "So let's press forward with resolve and solidarity and get through this coming wave together."