News analysis

The faster S'poreans get their vaccines, the sooner Singapore can return to normalcy

How fast and fully Singapore returns to a pre-pandemic lifestyle depends on how much of the population is vaccinated.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The focus of Singapore's fight against Covid-19 has started to shift, with plans to announce an exit road map shortly.

Singapore has not reached the end of the tunnel yet, but the light at the end is shining brighter. In fact, it's positively glowing.

In an unprecedented Opinion piece in The Straits Times on Thursday (June 24) followed by a press conference in the evening, the co-chairmen of the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 - Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung - spoke of moving towards a new normal.

There will be less need for contact tracing and quarantines, and large gatherings will be allowed. Travel with minimal or even no restrictions, albeit only to countries with low infection or high vaccination rates, will resume. And all this now looks set to happen before the end of this year.

However, certain conditions need to be met first.

How fast and how fully Singapore returns to a pre-pandemic lifestyle will depend on how much of the population is vaccinated, as well as who in the population has received maximum vaccine protection.

With the planned 70 per cent increase in vaccination rate to 80,000 jabs in arms a day from this weekend, two out of three people here are expected to be fully vaccinated by early August - up from slightly more than one in three today.

Mr Ong said that with the nation's supply delivery firmed up, everyone who is eligible should be able to get at least their first vaccine jab by National Day on Aug 9.

But everyone eligible being able to get vaccinated is very different from everyone actually getting at least the first dose of a vaccine.

Of greatest concern today is the relatively low take-up rate among the oldest segment of the population, as they are they ones who are at greater risk of severe illness, and even death, should they get Covid-19.

The Bukit Merah outbreak - where almost half of those infected were aged 60 and older - has underscored the importance of vaccination, especially in older people.

People fully vaccinated who were infected were mostly asymptomatic or only mildly ill. All five patients who are in intensive care had not been vaccinated.

Said Mr Gan: "The good news was that more than half of those seniors had received at least one dose of the vaccination, and many are stable and recovering. If not, we could be seeing more dire consequences."

Although seniors here have been given priority, Mr Ong said less than 70 per cent of those aged 70 and older have received their jabs.

Said Mr Ong: "It is really important for our seniors to get vaccinated."

For those aged 60 to 69, the vaccination take-up rate appears better, at nearly eight in 10.

Those above 70 are "in fact the more vulnerable group because they are older", said Mr Wong.

There may be new Covid-19 clusters emerging in future, he said. "If many of them (older people) are not vaccinated, then we will end up with more severe consequences because they will have severe illness, hospitalisation and ICU rates will go up. And unfortunately, under such a scenario, fatalities may rise too."

Both Mr Gan and Mr Wong stressed that it is wrong to think vaccination is not needed if the elderly person generally stays at home.

"You may have people visiting your elderly parent, and any visitor may well bring the virus into the home. So please engage your parents, get them vaccinated as soon as possible," appealed Mr Wong.

Singapore wants to get two-thirds of its population vaccinated by early August, but needs a much higher proportion of the elderly jabbed.

If vaccination among people aged 60 years and older can cross the 90 per cent mark, Singapore should have no qualms about relaxing all the stringent measures in place today, even if the national rate is below that.

Once the most vulnerable are protected, the danger from Covid-19 drops significantly for the nation.

So it all hinges on everyone getting older members of their family vaccinated as quickly as possible.

This will not only spell a quicker return to normalcy for all, but also protect them should there be another outbreak like the one at Bukit Merah.