Coronavirus Singapore

S'pore developing plan to live with virus as Covid-19 becomes endemic

High vaccination rates, better treatment and easing of border curbs likely in new normal

As Covid-19 becomes endemic around the world, the focus in Singapore will shift from how many cases there are each day, and more to the clinical condition of these cases.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday that in such a scenario, "it is no longer about going after each and every infected case".

He explained that even if a person were to be infected despite being vaccinated, the infection will likely be very mild or even asymptomatic.

"So, we will need a different protocol for such cases," Mr Wong said at a virtual news conference by the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, which he co-chairs.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, his fellow co-chair, said such a shift is already happening, with the authorities looking at the clinical condition of people infected here.

This means, for instance, examining how many people need oxygen due to the severity of their condition, and how many are in the intensive care unit.

The ministers were responding to a question about Singapore's Covid-19 strategy in the long term when the virus is endemic - meaning it has settled in a certain population in a geographical region and continues to persist.

Some examples of endemic diseases here include influenza, dengue, and hand, foot and mouth disease. This is a lower intensity level than a pandemic, which is the current situation as the coronavirus spreads across the world on a scale and at a speed that are unprecedented.

Mr Wong said it is "very likely" that Covid-19 will never go away.

He added that Singapore is developing a strategy to deal with Covid-19 being endemic, although it is still too early to paint a full picture of what this might look like.

However, he noted that there will likely be several components to life in this new normal.

First, high vaccination rates will be essential. This means not only getting people here vaccinated with their first and second doses, said Mr Wong, but also probably taking booster shots in the future.

For this to happen, Singapore needs a "proper and comprehensive vaccination programme", which the authorities are already working out, he added.

Second, better medical treatments for Covid-19 may be available.

This will give the authorities greater assurance that even if infections were to occur despite vaccination, or on the rare occasions where there are serious illnesses, treatments are available and people can recover, said Mr Wong.

Third, border restrictions will likely be eased, but more risk-based and targeted precautions will need to be in place, taking into account the overall infection situation in other countries as well as the vaccination status of travellers.

Mr Ong said more focus will be placed on the capabilities Sin-gapore has in suppressing clusters, such as testing and quarantining cases.

Mr Wong said: "We will take more aggressive localised actions, and we will try our very best to avoid having to impose general nationwide restrictions like another circuit breaker.

"We think that is the way to live with the virus while enabling most activities to resume."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2021, with the headline 'S'pore developing plan to live with virus as Covid-19 becomes endemic'. Subscribe