Singapore is entering a trying period in its fight against Covid-19, with daily cases expected to continue rising for some weeks, the healthcare system remaining under pressure, and the Delta virus variant slowed but not stopped.
But with each passing day, Singapore is getting stronger, more resilient, more ready to live with the virus in its midst - a "new normal" that will take Singapore at least three months and as long as six months to get to, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.
Daily new caseloads in Singapore have stayed above the 3,000 mark for four days straight, and above 1,000 since mid-September.
Although almost all the cases are asymptomatic or mild, deaths have been reported for 19 days in a row, taking the toll to 142 as at Friday.
PM Lee noted that the current surge will level off at some point, with infections starting to dip hopefully within a month or so.
And as pressure on the healthcare system eases, restrictions can be relaxed - but cautiously, to avoid starting a new wave again.
"We must protect our healthcare system and workers at all costs, in order to get through the pandemic safely," said PM Lee.
"Let me say this to all our healthcare workers: I know the enormous stress you are under, and the heavy load that you bear. You have been fighting so hard, for so long.
"Now we are going through perhaps the most difficult phase of our journey. But it will not last indefinitely. After this surge peaks, things should get better."
PM Lee also urged Singaporeans to be the first line of defence, and to help protect the hospitals and healthcare workers.
The population can do this by continuing to abide by safe management measures, cutting back on social activities, getting their vaccinations and booster shots, and self-testing regularly.
"If you are infected, take up home recovery unless you have serious illness, or vulnerable family members. Please don't rush to the A&E (accident and emergency department) with mild symptoms," he said. "Let us reserve hospital capacity for those who need it most - serious Covid-19 cases as well as others with serious illnesses."
Earlier, PM Lee said Singapore would build up its healthcare facilities to provide the seriously ill with the medical care they need.
As part of living with Covid-19, Singapore must also connect back to the world and continue to reopen borders safely, he added.
As he sketched out the longer-term path forward, PM Lee noted that while the war and long campaign against Covid-19 continues, Singapore is in a much better position than it was a year or six months ago.
When he last addressed the nation on Covid-19 in May, he said Singapore was heading towards a new normal where people live with the virus with the help of high vaccination rates and frequent testing. As at Thursday, 83 per cent of the population here was fully vaccinated.
"Sometimes it may not feel like it, but we are making steady progress towards the new normal," said PM Lee yesterday.
"After this surge stabilises, we may still see future surges, especially if new variants emerge. We may have to tap on the brakes again if cases again grow too fast, to protect our healthcare system and healthcare workers," he said.
"But we will be better able to cope with future surges. Our capacity and processes continue to improve. As more people are exposed to the virus and recover, our immunity levels will increase. Covid-19 will spread less quickly among us."
Singapore will know it is in the new normal when it can ease restrictions, have light safe management measures in place, and have a stable daily caseload perhaps in the hundreds, PM Lee added.
Living in a new normal will also mean that hospitals can go back to business as usual, and Singaporeans can resume doing the things they used to do, and see crowds again without getting worried or feeling strange, said PM Lee.
"Covid-19 has surprised us many times before, and may yet surprise us again. But get there we will, in a safe and careful manner, with no one left behind to fend for themselves, and with as few casualties as possible along the way," he said.
PM Lee reiterated that everyone's cooperation will be needed to put the pandemic behind, and hopefully soon.
"We have the resources, the determination, and the courage to get through this crisis," he said.
"The pandemic has brought out the best in Singaporeans. We have stayed united and resolute despite the difficulties," he added. "Let's keep that up, and continue working together to complete the journey towards Covid-resilience."