SINGAPORE - Singapore residents should not discard their TraceTogether token or delete the app just yet, as the country may need to step up contact tracing measures if the Covid-19 situation worsens, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.
"We are taking a cautious, 'step down but not dismantle' posture for our public health measures," he told Parliament on Monday (May 9).
Any decision to step up measures will depend on the severity of the virus situation, he added. This includes whether there is a new variant of concern, and if it is more severe or more infectious than Omicron.
It also depends on whether past infections and current vaccines continue to confer strong protection against the new variant, and how all these factors affect Singapore's hospital capacity.
Ms Nadia Ahmad Samdin (Ang Mo Kio GRC) had asked if there will be guidelines developed for the reactivation of TraceTogether and SafeEntry as contact tracing tools, to which Mr Ong said "no".
"I can understand some members of the public want a system with transparent and clear triggering points," he said. "But I am afraid that is not possible when we are in a pandemic crisis with fog of war."
He reiterated that the Government will do what is necessary to protect lives, and step down measures when they are no longer needed.
Ms Nadia then asked about the consequences of throwing away TraceTogether tokens, given a recent Straits Times report that doing so may be an offence.
The minister replied that those who have inadvertently thrown away their tokens should report having done so.
“I am sure government agencies will be as helpful as they can to try to replace them, he said. “I think our key consideration is not so much about protection of the equipment but to make sure that should we have another variant of concern, businesses and individuals are ready to respond.”
Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) asked if community events such as temple dinners where food is served will be allowed to take place, and if associated events such as auctions and stage performances are also permitted.
Mr Ong said the answer to both questions is "yes". But if a dinner event has more than 500 guests, a SafeEntry check-in counter should be installed.
Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) asked if Singapore's vaccination-differentiated measures (VDS) will be eased, so that unvaccinated people can dine at food and beverage outlets.
“Is there any way we can consider removing some of the vaccination-differentiated measures, so that those who choose not to be vaccinated for whatever reason... can lead their lives as per the rest of Singaporeans?” he asked. “Really, they ought to take responsibility for their own decision not to be vaccinated.”
Mr Ong replied that Singapore will continue to review VDS measures as the pandemic situation evolves. At present, these rules have been lifted in all except three risky settings – nightlife outlets with dancing, events with more than 500 people present at any one time, and food and beverage outlets.
But he stressed that in a pandemic, an individual’s decision affects the rest of society and the healthcare system. Although 3.5 per cent of the population is not fully vaccinated, these people account for 20 per cent of deaths and cases in intensive care.
“In extremis, when the numbers are huge and when we have a big wave, it may mean adding a lot of pressure to our healthcare system,” he said.
When this happens, it is not just the unvaccinated or even those who are infected that will suffer, Mr Ong added.
“Everyone that requires hospital care, acute care and emergency (care) will suffer... That decision not to vaccinate yourself is no longer just about yourself.”