Finance Minister Lawrence Wong urges patience on reopening further

SINGAPORE - Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Saturday (Oct 2) called for patience from those who would like to see Singapore reopen sooner.

He added that people should not get too anxious or fearful about the total number of new cases being reported daily.

"Our overall strategy (for) reopening has not changed, but this is the first time we are experiencing such a big wave and it is causing tremendous stress on our healthcare system and our healthcare workers," he said at a press conference held by the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19.

His comments come amid calls by some people calling for restrictions to be lifted sooner, and those on the other end of the spectrum calling for a lockdown in the wake of the recent surge in Covid-19 transmissions in the community.

He said: "When we see such a surge of cases during these few days, several thousand a day, I know it can be quite worrying, and you have two sorts of very sharp reactions from different people.

"One group says, look, it's so high, let's quickly lock down and bring cases down. Another group says, well, this is completely to be expected. After all, we talked about living with Covid-19, so move forward."

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the task force, noted that the tighter measures imposed during the stabilisation phase from Sept 27 to Oct 24 are meant to slow the rate of increase of transmission to buy time for new healthcare protocols to stabilise, not to bring down the total number of new daily cases.

He called for patience from those who would like to see Singapore reopen sooner.

He said: "Our overall strategy (for) reopening has not changed, but this is the first time we are experiencing such a big wave and it is causing tremendous stress on our healthcare system and our healthcare workers.

"Procedures, protocols have to be changed and adjusted, and new capacity has to be added into the system. All this takes a little bit of time and that's why we are putting in place these measures in the stabilisation phase so that we can get all these things ready."

The measures, which include a two-person cap on dining in and household visitors, are set to be reviewed next week, at the midpoint of the stabilisation phase.

Mr Wong noted that the full impact of these tighter restrictions has yet to be seen, as it takes at least a week for any measures to show results.

However, there are some signs that transmission is slowing, he said, adding that the time it takes for the number of new daily cases to double has now lengthened from a week to about 10 days, compared with the situation early last month.

The authorities will continue to monitor the situation over the next few days to see what impact the new measures have had.

To the group calling for a further tightening of measures, Mr Wong said Singapore has gone beyond such a point.

"We have already said because of our high vaccination rate, we are no longer focusing solely on headline numbers," the minister said, referring to the total number of new cases each day.

"Our focus is on the people who are seriously ill, and to make sure that our healthcare system is able to take care of them. That remains our focus, so let's not get too carried away by the headline numbers or too anxious or fearful about those numbers."

Mr Wong also said that even as Singapore waits for the current wave of infections to peak and decline over the next few weeks, Singaporeans should be mentally prepared for future waves to follow. This is because Singapore has one of the lowest rates of past Covid-19 infection in the population.

"Unlike, for example, many European countries, we have kept infections in Singapore low for a very long time. Many European countries experienced large waves last year... before they had the chance for their people to be vaccinated," he said.

He added: "Many countries ended up paying a high price, suffering high fatalities because of the waves that they experienced last year, but now, they have a much higher level of natural immunity.

"Together with the vaccination programmes that they have introduced, many of these countries have reached a new Covid-stable situation where they are able to resume activities and they have not seen any resurgence of cases."

Singapore will eventually reach a stage where its population has both a high level of vaccination and natural immunity, perhaps in a few months, Mr Wong said. The country will then be able to reopen more confidently without seeing new waves of cases.

"The bottom line is that we remain committed to our reopening plans and to be a Covid-resilient nation, and we will do so while safeguarding lives and protecting the livelihoods of everyone in Singapore."