S'pore working towards opening up while keeping human cost of Covid-19 low: PM Lee

PM Lee Hsien Loong speaking to reporters at Hotel de Russie in Rome on Oct 31, 2021.
PM Lee Hsien Loong speaking to reporters at Hotel de Russie in Rome on Oct 31, 2021.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

ROME - Singapore is working towards the easing of Covid-19 restrictions, as many European countries have done, while keeping the human cost as low as possible.

And this means reopening will take "a little bit longer, a few months", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

"But I think we can get there," said PM Lee, who was in Rome for the Group of 20 Leaders' Summit over the weekend.

In an interview with Singapore reporters on Sunday (Oct 31), the Prime Minister was asked if Singapore can expect to follow the path that Italy has taken in dealing with the pandemic. At present, many European countries no longer require masks to be worn outdoors and safe distancing restrictions have generally been rolled back, allowing life to resume a semblance of normality.

In response, PM Lee observed that Italy has a population of around 60 million and has reported 4.7 million Covid-19 cases so far. It has also seen 132,000 coronavirus deaths.

Translate these numbers to Singapore's population of 5.45 million, and one would expect to see around 440,000 cases and 11,000 to 12,000 deaths, he noted.

But the country has reported just under 200,000 cases and 407 deaths as at Sunday.

These numbers mean that Singapore is about halfway to where Italy currently is, in terms of the number of people having gotten sick and recovered, PM Lee said.

"But in terms of the human casualties, we have been able to get there with much less human cost."

He had a caveat - even after Singapore has achieved its aims, the situation may once again change.

"Covid-19 may well have more surprises for us," PM Lee said, noting that cases are beginning to rise in Europe and governments are watching the situation to see if some tightening up is necessary.

Several countries have reported an uptick in case numbers, and there is growing concern that the winter months may see a resurgence of the coronavirus. This is because people tend to interact more often indoors at this time of the year, with the virus tending to survive better in cold, dry conditions.

"It may happen to us, too, but we take it one step at a time," PM Lee said of the possibility that Singapore may once again need to tighten measures.

"So far, it has taken us a while. It has been very wearing on our people because each time we think we have arrived, something new turns up and you have to carry on a little bit longer," he added.

"But we are making progress, and I think we have confidence we will get there."