SINGAPORE - Singapore's Covid-19 vaccination programme will enter its next phase on Feb 22, when seniors across the island start getting their jabs, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday (Feb 12).
This comes after a month-long pilot, where those aged 70 and above in Ang Mo Kio and Tanjong Pagar - towns with a higher proportion of elderly residents - began receiving their vaccinations from Jan 27.
The multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 will give more details and announce the schedule of these vaccinations, said Mr Lee, who reiterated Singapore's goal to get the country vaccinated by the third quarter or latest by the end of the year - provided no issues crop up.
Mr Lee was speaking to reporters at Changi General Hospital after visiting essential workers on the first day of the Chinese New Year.
Singapore has placed orders for the vaccines from multiple suppliers to ensure there is enough for everyone here, although there may be some disruptions and delays, noted Mr Lee, who said close to 250,000 people have been vaccinated to date.
"I am reasonably confident that we will get the vaccines that we need this year," he said.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said last month that Singapore was expecting shipment delays of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines due to upgrades in Pfizer's manufacturing plant.
Singapore has also authorised the Moderna vaccine, and expects the first shipment to arrive next month , if there are no disruptions to the shipment schedule.
"We have hedged our bets and we have ordered, and pre-ordered vaccines from multiple suppliers. I hope that not all of them will get disrupted," said Mr Lee.
Mr Lee pointed out that depending on the disruptions to the supply of vaccines and whether they arrive late, Singapore's vaccination programme might have to be stretched out a bit.
The country will have to keep up its safe management measures longer and more strictly, he added.
But even if Singapore manages to vaccinate most of its residents, Mr Lee cautioned this does not mean that life can go back to how it was pre-pandemic as it does not mean everyone will be safe.
"Some will not be vaccinated - they will remain vulnerable. Our borders will not be able to be completely closed, people will have to travel from time to time. Cases will come in and we will have to deal with them. We will have to move to living with Covid-19 in some form for quite some time," he said.
He added that countries in the region will also not be able to vaccinate their large populations by the end of this year, so there remains a need for vigilance.
Underscoring his faith that Singapore can keep up the good work in adjusting to restricted activities and containing Covid-19, Mr Lee acknowledged that there are things many people miss while they adhere to safety management measures.
He singled out the ability to have human contact and interaction, which he said are things human beings, as social creatures, need and depend on.
“We are social creatures – and you want to see people, you want to have friends to chat, and not have to be always on guard; Did I sanitise my hand?; Can I sit a bit closer? – it goes against all your normal instincts to hug and be close to somebody,” he said.
"That is one significant psychological cost which we bear. And the other one is sometimes, you just want to let your hair down, have a fling and party - that is why you have a rave and beach party - I think it will be some time before we have raves and beach parties, even with vaccines and vaccinations," he added.
This extends to leisure travel as well, and Mr Lee noted that countries are still very wary about restarting travel, especially as there are new variants of Covid-19 emerging, which are more infectious and possibly even more dangerous.
He said: "Countries are very wary about restarting travel and until a substantial proportion of the population are vaccinated, and there is some system for countries to know and verify who has been vaccinated and is safe to travel.
"I do not think you can expect to go back to the days when you just buy a ticket and go up to Bangkok or Hong Kong for a weekend, for some time to come," he said.
"That would be several years - even IATA has said four to five years, until 2024 or thereabouts," he added.
He was referring to projections by the International Air Transport Association on how long it would take for global air travel to return to pre-Covid-19 levels.