News analysis

Singapore sets sights on a pathway out of the current Covid-19 crisis

The stepped relaxation could prevent a sudden conflagration, especially if everyone continues to take safety measures seriously.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - The stricter Covid-19 measures in force since May 16 have impacted Singaporean lives and livelihoods. So many have been counting the days till June 13 - the one month deadline for the phase two heightened alert.

It would have been a tough call for the authorities to extend the period where only two people may go out together or visit in a day, where food outlets are open only for takeaways and religious services are limited to 100 people.

This is especially given the drop in the number of infections to the single digit over the past few days.

But there are still infections, and more importantly, there are still unlinked cases that could spell another spike. On Thursday (June 10), there were two such cases.

Hence, the two-step opening that is a week apart. But work from home remains the default, even after June 21.

While this will certainly not please everyone - who doesn't want a freer social and work life? - at least it is an easing of measures.

By spreading out the easing of measures, should the number of infections go up in the coming week, it will be easier to quickly tighten measures again to stop a surge.

Hopefully, that will not happen. But the past month has shown that there are undiagnosed cases in the community - which Finance Minister Lawrence Wong calls "cryptic" or hidden cases - and any of these could spark a surge.

Or as Health Minister Ong Ye Kung likes to say, the embers are still there: "We don't know whether the embers are burning, and if it catches some dry leaves, it may spark off again."

So the stepped relaxation could prevent a sudden conflagration - especially if everyone continues to take safety measures seriously.

Even so, as Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong said: "There's a possibility that the number of cases may go up for a while."

After more than a year fighting Covid-19, most accept that the virus is here to stay and that cases will surface from time to time.

As more people here get vaccinated, the risk of a spike in cases will go down, as those who have been vaccinated will act as a firebreak, containing its spread.

"We continue to make good progress in our vaccination efforts, and we are well on our way to giving 50 per cent of our population the first dose," said Mr Gan.

Mr Ong said the vaccination roll-out has accelerated, and close to 50,000 arms are now jabbed daily. Already, three in four people aged 45 years and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine.

By August, half the population should be fully vaccinated, and by October, 75 per cent.

Last year, this would have been more than enough to provide herd immunity for the nation, to ensure protection against major surges in infections.

But as new variants emerge that are more easily transmissible, the proportion of the population that needs to be vaccinated goes up.

Nevertheless, with 75 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, and hopefully more people in line for the vaccine, the pandemic should then be pretty much under control in Singapore.

When that happens, said Mr Wong, "we will ease our restrictions and gradually restore our normal lives, both within Singapore and at our borders".

"Then we will move to phase three, and even beyond phase three to a new normal phase of living with endemic Covid."

If infections remain low, if those infected do not become severely ill, and better treatment is discovered, Singapore would hopefully have seen its last Covid-19 death.

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