Singaporeans polled expect current virus curbs to last till end of year

Fifty-six per cent felt the curbs were just right, while another three in 10 felt they were too relaxed. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - More than half of Singaporeans polled in an online survey believe that the current level of Covid-19 restrictions will persist through this year, as the country navigates its way towards an endemic state.

In all, 54 per cent of the 1,000 respondents felt developments in the Covid-19 situation this year will result in the same level of restrictions. Another 21 per cent said there are likely to be more restrictions than last year.

Only a quarter of respondents said they believe there will be fewer restrictions here this year than last year, in an online survey by The Straits Times, conducted by market research firm Milieu Insight from Jan 6 to 10.

The respondents, who are all Singaporeans, are representative of the Singaporean population aged 16 and above by age and gender.

Health experts are more sanguine, and expect domestic and border measures to be eased further this year in spite of the Omicron variant.

Professor Dale Fisher, senior consultant at the National University Hospital's Division of Infectious Diseases, said it would be reasonable to ease border measures once the spread of Omicron in Singapore reaches levels seen overseas.

"Border restrictions and all the testing around travel are a containment strategy - to keep the virus out or slow its introduction. We should get to a point soon where this is not adding to disease control," he said.

He added that Singapore will also reach a point where its "blunt" community measures no longer provide a benefit as well.

Professor Josip Car, the director at the Centre for Population Health Sciences at the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine in Nanyang Technological University, said that given Singapore's high dependence on international trade and commerce, it is likely that the Government will take measures to sustain these sectors.

He hopes to see some restrictive measures at the workplace and on social gatherings eased.

Prof Car added that the biggest challenge of Covid-19 is that every measure to protect the community from the virus may lead to outcomes which negatively impact people's health and well-being.

"Therefore, we must consider these 'side effects' of each and every existing measure thoroughly when deciding whether to sustain, gradually reduce or remove them entirely in 2022 to minimise and heal the harm caused."

Survey respondents were also asked how they felt about domestic restrictions in place as at last December, given the emergence of Omicron. Fifty-six per cent felt the curbs were just right, while another three in 10 felt they were too relaxed. Only 15 per cent felt the restrictions were too strict.

Asked which local Covid-19 restriction they hope will be eased this year, 26 per cent of respondents said the curbs should either remain in place or be tightened.

Next was limits to group sizes for non-mass events (21 per cent), mask-wearing (17 per cent) and mandatory TraceTogether check-ins (12 per cent).

Assistant Professor Hannah Clapham from the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health hopes restrictions on migrant workers living in dormitories will be eased, as those are currently much stricter.

The experts noted that Singapore had not yet reached a stage of living with endemic Covid-19 as at the end of last year.

An endemic Covid-19 situation would involve a stable number of community cases, with new cases kept within predictable estimates, Prof Car said.

Government-reinforced measures to limit the spread of infection will also become unnecessary, he added.

Associate Professor Natasha Howard from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health said living with Covid-19 would mean not routinely wearing masks, getting tested or using TraceTogether for contact tracing, among other things.

Prof Clapham said such an endemic state would mean fewer Covid-19 measures, and considerably less impact on people's lives.

Asked what might happen if Singapore adopts an endemic approach before the global Omicron situation stabilises, Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, felt the cost would be "very low", given the country's strong vaccination response and its resilient and prepared healthcare sector.

But he added that it is prudent not to wait for hospitals to struggle before curbs are imposed.

Associate Professor Alex Cook, who is vice-dean of research at the school, said it would be overly risk-averse to maintain a pandemic posture after primary school pupils are vaccinated and adults have taken their boosters, and once Singapore is confident it can ride out the Omicron wave.

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