TraceTogether, SafeEntry to be reviewed once Covid-19 cases subside further: Ong Ye Kung

SafeEntry will no longer be needed once vaccination differentiated measures are done away with. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Covid-19 safe management measures (SMMs), including the use of TraceTogether, SafeEntry and vaccination-differentiated measures, will be reviewed once cases subside further.

Other measures such as safe distancing rules between tables in food and beverage settings will also be reviewed, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told Parliament on Monday (April 4).

Once these measures are eased, it will be a matter of individual responsibility for those who remain unvaccinated to take precautions and avoid high transmission settings, or change their minds and get vaccinated, the minister said.

"While the patient loads at our public hospitals have eased, hospitals are still very busy," Mr Ong said, adding that the easing of SMMs last week and the resumption of hospital visitation will result in a higher workload for healthcare staff.

Those who are not fully vaccinated are still more likely to be seriously ill if they are infected, and vaccination-differentiated measures are still needed to avoid having more such patients requiring hospital care, he said.

"When we are sure that the situation in hospitals is stable and improving, we will review the VDS (vaccination-differentiated measures) and consider if we can reduce the number of settings or remove it entirely."

Mr Ong said SafeEntry, which remains the most convenient way to check the vaccination status of people entering a venue, will no longer be needed once vaccination-differentiated measures are done away with.

About 3.5 per cent of Singapore's adult population are not fully vaccinated, but this accounts for more than one-fifth of intensive care unit cases and deaths.

As for TraceTogether, Mr Ong said the Ministry of Health (MOH) no longer relies on it for contact tracing for the general public, but agencies that look after more vulnerable sectors, such as schools, continue to use it.

The aggregated statistics generated by TraceTogether and SafeEntry can also give the authorities a good idea of settings that are more susceptible to Covid-19 transmission, Mr Ong added.

"On the whole, the costs and benefits of TraceTogether change as we make further progress in living with Covid-19.

"The multi-ministry task force (on Covid-10) will therefore review its relevance and application, to stand it down when it is no longer needed, while maintaining the capability to restart it should we encounter a more dangerous variant of concern."

Mr Ong was responding to questions from Mr Liang Eng Hwa (Bukit Panjang), non-constituency MPs Leong Mun Wai and Hazel Poa of the Progress Singapore Party, and Associate Professor Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) of the Workers' Party.

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Mr Liang questioned if the continued enforcement of vaccination-differentiated measures is equitable, noting that 96.5 per cent of the population is inconvenienced to protect the remaining 3.5 per cent who are not fully vaccinated.

"Does it really make a difference in terms of the public health outcomes, or is it just a move to basically disincentivise those unvaccinated from going there or to nudge them to get vaccinated?" he asked.

Mr Lim Biow Chuan (Mountbatten) also noted that efforts to persuade the remaining unvaccinated people to get vaccinated have not been successful.

Mr Ong replied: "Is it equitable? Actually, not quite. So many of us are doing so much to protect that 3.5 per cent. But is it therefore to protect public health outcomes? The answer is yes."

Vaccination-differentiated measures are still needed to avoid having more unvaccinated people requiring hospital care, said Mr Ong Ye Kung. PHOTO: ST FILE

He also agreed that Singapore's vaccination rate is unlikely to rise further, stressing that the decision to maintain vaccination-differentiated measures for the time being is out of care for healthcare workers.

Prof Lim asked if the MOH is looking to hit specific milestones before easing measures further.

Mr Ong responded that Singapore has avoided the approach of setting such targets that many other countries took, as Covid-19 has repeatedly proved to be unpredictable.

"We would really rather not tie our hands that way, but we always look at the entire situation, look into all the unforeseen circumstances, look at the hospital situation, cases, severe cases, vaccination rate, take everything into consideration and make a judgment call.

"So far, it has served us well. We tighten up when we have to, to keep everyone safe, and we also ease up when we can, and let economic and social activities resume as normally as possible."

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