More than 250,000 people in Singapore have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine and the entire population is on track to be inoculated within this year if supplies come in as scheduled, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
In his annual Chinese New Year message released yesterday, he also strongly encouraged people to get vaccinated when their turn comes, to protect themselves and their loved ones.
"Keeping our families safe from Covid-19 has been on all of our minds," he said as families gathered for the start of a muted celebration amid the pandemic.
"This year, with Covid-19, it is perhaps more important than ever to show our appreciation to our family members. The warmth, comfort and support of our families have given all of us strength to get through the most trying times of Covid-19."
The Year of the Ox brings new hope, PM Lee said, noting that countries with serious outbreaks that have started mass vaccinations have begun to bring down their cases.
In Singapore, most front-line and essential workers have been vaccinated, and seniors above 70 are starting to receive their jabs.
"If enough of us are vaccinated, our population will have herd immunity. But we are not there yet, so in the meantime please keep up our safe distancing precautions, even if you yourself have been vaccinated," he said.
To curb the spread of Covid-19, people can receive no more than eight visitors a day to their homes.
Those who are out and about are also to visit only their relatives, limited to two homes a day.
While these restrictions will dampen the festive atmosphere somewhat and also inconvenience those with big, extended families, they are necessary to keep people safe as the virus is still spreading rapidly around the world, he said.
He cited the new waves of infection that hit many countries last month, after people had gathered and let their guard down for year-end celebrations, adding that it is something to learn from and avoid.
"I thank everyone for your continued support for the tough restrictions... I am sure you will find other ways to hold your reunions and connect with family members and friends, perhaps through video calls or teleconferencing," he said.
"We can look forward to more carefree celebrations when the pandemic is over."
PM Lee said protecting Singaporeans, especially seniors, has been the Government's top priority in the pandemic.
Singapore has gone all out to control the spread of the virus, treat the infected and prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed, even at great economic cost, he added.
Through tremendous effort, the country has stabilised its Covid-19 situation, avoided the disastrous outbreaks experienced by many other countries and restarted most of its economy, he said.
"As we welcome the Year of the Ox, we can look back and give thanks that we have come through the Year of the Rat, not without trouble, but relatively unscathed."
PM Lee wished all Singaporeans good health, and a very happy Chinese New Year.