SINGAPORE - The Republic is in a critical period of its fight against Covid-19, and new cases will continue to be picked up before tapering off in about two weeks, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (May 18).
He added that the infections picked up now were likely seeded two weeks ago, and he was confident the latest round of measures would bring down the numbers.
"But we also need to recognise that there is a time lag with the measures that we introduce," he said explaining that it would take time for results to show.
In the meantime, the Government will continue to monitor the situation carefully in consultation with health experts, to determine if further tightening will be required, he said.
He called on Singaporeans to "do everything we can" to slow down the spread of the virus - by getting vaccinated, staying at home and being properly masked - noting that they have cooperated with the measures so far and taken the restrictions in their stride.
"I know this has been very difficult and disruptive for all of you," he added. "Let us hunker down; we keep our spirits up, continue to support each other, and we can get through this bump together."
He made the remarks as the multi-ministry task force for Covid-19, which he co-chairs, announced a new strategy for Singapore's vaccination programme in a bid to protect more people faster.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, his co-chair, said those who sign up for Covid-19 vaccination from Wednesday will get their second dose six to eight weeks after the first, instead of three to four weeks later, so there are more doses for people to get their first jab.
This comes amid a spike in Covid-19 cases, with clusters forming in Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Changi Airport in the past few weeks and more unlinked cases being detected.
There were 149 new community cases in the past week, as at Monday, of which 42 were unlinked.
To curb the spread of the virus, people are no longer allowed to dine in at eateries, students have been taken out of schools to do home-based learning, and groups gatherings are now limited to two people, down from five.
Mr Wong said these stricter measures were necessary amid growing evidence that the Covid-19 variants behind the recent outbreaks can spread through aerosolised particles, rendering previous precautions insufficient.
On how the latest restrictions would affect the economy, Mr Wong acknowledged that the recent development has made the outlook more uncertain.
But he said he believed Singapore's economy was still on track to achieve positive growth at the end of the year.
Pointing to the Ministry of Trade and Industry's forecast for Singapore's gross domestic product to grow between 4 per cent and 6 per cent, he said: "I think there will still be continued recovery in certain segments. But with the latest measures - and again, depending on how long this will last; how long some of the business entities will have to close - then there will certainly be an impact."
The recent measures have been the strictest since Singapore came out of a circuit breaker period last June. Last year's circuit breaker measures had taken their toll, pushing Singapore into a technical recession for the first time since 2009.
Mr Wong said the Government would continue to monitor the economic situation closely to see if businesses and workers would need extra help.
The task force was also asked if Singapore might have been able to avert the current situation and open up faster if more people were vaccinated - and quicker.
But Mr Ong said that it was not wise to time the opening of the economy and the border with the rate of vaccination.
Rather, it should be pegged to outcomes such as the number of infections, number of unlinked cases and severity of infections, for example.
He said this was correlated to measures taken such as vaccination and risk management, adding: "So by taking proper steps, including the major thrust of vaccination, we can deliver good outcomes, which will then allow us to open up more."