SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 situation today would have been much worse if the authorities did not impose tighter restrictions in the wake of the Jurong Fishery Port cluster, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (July 27).
Responding to a barrage of questions and comments from MPs on the move back to phase two (heightened alert) measures last week, he said he was "fully convinced" it was the right judgment call.
He noted that the Covid-19 cluster linked to KTV lounges stood at 245 cases as at noon on Tuesday, including two new cases.
In comparison, the still-growing Jurong Fishery Port cluster stood at 902 cases, with 36 new cases.
The number of Covid-19 patients who are hospitalised and require oxygen or intensive care has also risen 3½ times since early July, from five to 18 as at Monday night.
"If we had not done a heightened alert, the outcomes would have been far worse," he said, reminding the House that there are still 200,000 seniors aged above 60 who are not vaccinated.
"Are we prepared to live with an outcome where many of them fall sick and even succumb to the illness? Is that something we want to happen, to see happen in Singapore?" said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry Covid-19 task force.
Some MPs had called for a clearer road map on the path ahead, saying the shifting rules have led to uncertainty and disruption. To this, the minister said the pandemic situation is highly fluid, rapidly changing and very uncertain.
"Obviously, it's very hard to predict what would happen," he said.
"We don't even know what will happen in the next few days, let alone in the next few weeks or months."
He noted that Covid-19 case numbers were in the single digits and continuing to fall in early July.
"Any risk dashboard would tell you things are okay and we would be able to move forward to open confidently. Then, what struck? We had the KTV cluster. No warning, no early indicator, but it struck us."
The task force felt it was still possible to continue reopening, based on its assessment of the KTV cluster then.
But the Jurong Fishery Port cluster that emerged shortly after that was "much, much more serious", he said, with infections quickly spreading in the community through markets and hawker centres.
"There was heightened risk of exponential spread, and our vaccine coverage at that time was not adequate. That's why we decided at that time that we had to return to phase two (heightened alert)," Mr Wong added.
"I know everyone is frustrated about the measures. The minute I announce something, I get it in my inbox already. I fully understand, but I hope members in this House understand too," he said.
"We've tried very hard to explain to all of you in the hope that you too understand what an important, difficult but necessary decision this has to be so that you too can do your part as responsible Members of Parliament, in a crisis and pandemic like this, to explain to your residents, to your constituents... why we had to do this."
Mr Wong cited the hospitalisation and intensive care unit numbers as some of the metrics that the task force would be monitoring in the next few days as it prepares to review current measures.
It will then consider easing some measures for vaccinated people only, with further easing in September when the proportion of fully vaccinated people in Singapore hits the 80 per cent mark.
But he warned that Singaporeans should be prepared for tightened measures once more if the situation worsens significantly despite a high vaccination rate, adding that this could potentially be due to the emergence of a new variant.
"We have shared as much as we can up to now, and as I said, when further details are ready, we will share more."