SINGAPORE - Singapore is not expected to move out of phase three of its reopening any time soon, said Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary on Thursday (Feb 25).
Phase three is a "new normal" which will last until there is evidence vaccines are effective in preventing future outbreaks, he added. In addition, a substantial proportion of the population must be vaccinated and the rest of the world must have the coronavirus under control.
He noted that the coronavirus situation here and around the world remains dynamic.
The authorities are awaiting more evidence that the vaccines approved for use here - which have been shown to protect against the virus - will also prevent viral transmission.
"We are also closely monitoring their effectiveness against new viral variants," Dr Janil said. "Meanwhile, our best strategy is to continue to be disciplined about safe management measures, and achieve a high level of vaccination within our population to boost our collective immunity."
He was responding to Mr Yip Hon Weng (Yio Chu Kang), who had asked about Singapore's plans to ease out of phase three, as well as the criteria that must be fulfilled for restrictions to be lifted.
Dr Janil noted that even within phase three, Singapore had tightened safe management measures following an increase in unlinked cases and community cases.
It will continue to find ways to allow its economy and society to further reopen in a safe way, he said. "But given the dynamic situation here and around the world, we will need to adjust our safe management measures from time to time."
Mr Yip then asked if the arrival of China's Sinovac vaccine will push forward Singapore's vaccination timeline, assuming the vaccine is approved for use.
Dr Janil replied that the vaccine timeline is dependent on several factors, the most important of which is the country's ability to ramp up the capacity and capability of vaccination centres. Other factors include Singaporeans' willingness to get vaccinated, as well as vaccine supply.
"The approval or licensure of one given vaccine is not a rate-limiting step in that process," he said.
Workers' Party MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) then asked if the Health Ministry could share details of how it plans to deal with outbreaks of more virulent strains of the virus.
Dr Janil said there are general fundamentals in Singapore's approach to preventing outbreaks and dealing with them when they occur. These include safe distancing measures, contact tracing and quarantine.
"When it comes to the specifics of a given viral variant, these are now in a hypothetical space," he added. "The key point would be that we take reference from technical and professional advice."