SINGAPORE - There are currently no plans to introduce vaccination-differentiated measures for children aged 12 and below, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Monday (Jan 10).
This means children will be able to enter schools and public areas no matter their inoculation status.
"Children are less likely to develop severe illnesses when infected, and we want to preserve, as much as possible, universal access to holistic education for children," the minister said, explaining the decision in Parliament.
If these children contract Covid-19, they will have their medical bills fully covered by the Government regardless of vaccination status. But they must be citizens, permanent residents or long-term pass holders and not have travelled recently.
Education Minister Chan Chun Sing added that his ministry will work with parents to achieve a high vaccination rate, to resume as many school activities as possible.
“The pace, extent and approach towards resuming these school activities would depend on various factors, including vaccination rates as well as the overall national posture,” he said.
Those whose vaccination appointments are during school hours will be excused from lessons, as will those who are feeling unwell after vaccination.
The first Parliament sitting of the year kicked off with 18 questions on Covid-19, ranging from vaccination for children to the potential impact of the Omicron variant on Singapore.
Mr Ong reiterated that the Omicron wave could be several times larger than Delta’s last year, given the variant's increased transmissibility.
If Delta infections hit a sustained incidence of about 3,000 cases daily, Omicron could reach 10,000 to 15,000 cases a day or more.
Cases are likely to double every two to three days. And case numbers are expected to rise steeply within a couple of weeks, when Singapore could see 3,000 Omicron cases a day.
On the bright side, there has been consistent international evidence showing that Omicron infections are less severe than those caused by the Delta variant.
People are less likely to be hospitalised and die from infection, and hospital stays are shorter.
Mr Ong highlighted the examples of South Africa and Britain, both of which are facing large Omicron-dominant transmission waves. These countries have not seen a proportionate rise in the number of hospitalisations and deaths.
One South African study showed that 4.9 per cent of cases were admitted to hospital during the Omicron wave, compared with 13.7 per cent during the Delta wave. And those admitted during the Omicron wave were 73 per cent less likely to become severely ill.
In Britain, the risk of being admitted to hospital with Omicron was about half that of Delta.
Singapore's experiences have been consistent with this trend.
There have been 4,322 Omicron infections to date, including 308 seniors aged 60 and above. Eight needed oxygen supplementation, although all were taken off oxygen within a few days and none required intensive care.
In contrast, the country would expect to see 50 to 60 patients requiring oxygen supplementation, intensive care or dying if these infections had been caused by Delta, Mr Ong said.
He cautioned, however, that both South Africa and Britain are different from Singapore in several ways.
South Africa has a younger population with a high level of natural immunity, even though vaccine coverage is not high. Britain's population, on the other hand, has both natural immunity and high inoculation rates.
"This current Omicron outbreak is riding on the back of a protracted Delta wave, which worsens clinical outcomes," he noted.
Mr Ong pointed out that even if a small percentage of infected individuals falls very sick, Omicron is so infectious that a large number of infections can still lead to many people needing intensive care or dying.
The minister said vaccines - especially boosters - continue to protect substantially against severe disease.
British studies have found that the risks of hospitalisation from Omicron are reduced by 72 per cent for vaccinated individuals and 88 per cent with a booster shot.