Treat Covid-19 seriously, but no need to live in fear: PM

Travel restrictions eased, health protocols simplified, as S'pore seeks to live with virus

Travel restrictions will be eased and health processes simplified, as Singapore stays the course in its effort to live with Covid-19, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

The Republic will press on with its strategy of living with the virus, with a "new normal" possibly between three and six months away.

Right now, the crucial step is to change mindsets on the virus, PM Lee said in his ninth address to the nation since the pandemic began.

This means treating Covid-19 seriously, but not living in fear of it, and adjusting healthcare and recovery measures to prioritise those at greatest risk of severe illness.

To this end, home recovery will become the default for almost everyone in Singapore who is hit by the virus from today, except the very youngest and oldest of patients, and for those above 50 who are unvaccinated, the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 announced yesterday. Most patients will exit home isolation after 10 days.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday that Covid-19 protocols were being revised as it was not sustainable to restrict large numbers of people for long periods to try and catch every case.

The revised system might seem "less watertight than today's quarantine system, but it can significantly and substantively manage the risk", he said at a press conference that followed PM Lee's address that was broadcast live.

Unlike last year when the consequences of infection were serious, only 2 per cent or fewer of the current cases developed serious illness, while 0.2 per cent - or two out of every thousand cases - have died or needed intensive care unit (ICU) treatment, noted PM Lee.

"In other words, Covid-19 is no longer a dangerous disease for most of us," he said.

Now, the threat of Covid-19 is mainly to seniors aged 60 and above who are not vaccinated, or 80 and above even if they are vaccinated, said PM Lee. He urged those who have been vaccinated to go for their booster shots as the third jab reduces a senior's risk of severe infection by more than 10 times.

Starting yesterday, the booster shots regime has been expanded to include healthcare and front-line workers, and persons aged 30 and above.

In line with its effort to live with the virus, Singapore also needs to reconnect with the world, to help preserve its hub status, said PM Lee. To do so, Singapore will allow quarantine-free travel to eight more countries from Oct 19. They are Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. From Nov 15, the scheme will be expanded to include South Korea.

Said Minister for Transport S. Iswaran at the press conference: "While still a far cry from where we were pre-Covid, this is a significant step in the reopening of our borders and crucial to reclaiming and rebuilding our status as an international aviation hub with global connectivity."

Pointing to the dilemma that policymakers face, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong noted yesterday that while some have called for a faster relaxation of the rules, others have expressed concerns about the impact this might have on the health and well-being of their elders and the safety of their young children.

He said the Government is taking all these considerations to heart as it develops Singapore's Covid-19 response and strategy.

Looking ahead, PM Lee said that the surge in cases will level off, hopefully within a month.

To manage this situation, everyone has a part to play in ensuring that the healthcare system does not get overwhelmed, he added. This includes not rushing to hospitals if they have mild symptoms so that bed capacity is reserved for those who need it most.

He added that a new normal will be reached eventually, when restrictions can largely be lifted; daily new cases will be stable at hundreds a day without growing; and hospitals will be able to go back to business as usual.

"We are in a much better position now, than a year or even six months ago," he said.

"Sometimes it may not feel like it, but we are making steady progress towards the new normal."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 10, 2021, with the headline 'Treat Covid-19 seriously, but no need to live in fear: PM'. Subscribe