Singapore may tighten Covid-19 rules ahead of Chinese New Year, will also prioritise vaccine roll-out

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Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and Education Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chairs of the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, reflect on efforts against the pandemic in the past year and the road ahead.

SINGAPORE - The battle against Covid-19 this year will be fought on two fronts: speeding up the nationwide vaccination programme, and keeping the slate of safeguards finely tuned.

This could mean implementing further restrictions ahead of Chinese New Year in February, when more social interaction is expected to take place, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the task force tackling the pandemic.

He pointed out that the number of Covid-19 cases in the community has been inching up roughly two weeks after the year-end festive period.

"We are concerned that if we continue in the same sort of situation, (if) we don't do something more, then this continued creep in the cases may end up in new clusters emerging, that may be beyond our control later," Mr Wong said.

"So, we are considering very carefully now whether additional measures may be necessary."

He added: "Exactly what these are - whether they pertain to house visitations, what kind of measures - we are still studying. And when we are ready we will highlight them."

Mr Wong and task force co-chair Gan Kim Yong, the Health Minister, were addressing reporters on Tuesday (Jan 19) at an interview to mark one year of Covid-19 in Singapore.

The 90-minute interview covered a variety of topics, including the challenges the task force has faced over the past 12 months, as well as the prospects for Singapore in the coming years.

The ministers also thanked front-line workers, individual volunteers, and organisations that contributed to the effort and went out of their comfort zones to help.

The country's response to the crisis reflected the resilience of its society, Mr Gan said, adding: "When the challenges come our way, we are able to come together, look after one another, support one another and to emerge stronger at the end of the crisis."

In many ways, Singapore is in a stronger position to tackle the virus than it was before, Mr Wong said. It now has better healthcare capabilities, improved testing and tracing capabilities, and is rolling out vaccinations.

On the other hand, the situation remains highly unpredictable because the virus is still spreading in the wider world, he added. Community cases are going up, and there is a sense of fatigue with all the rules in place.

Mr Gan also said that much remains unknown about the virus.

From that point of view, Singapore is still in a vulnerable position, Mr Wong said. In fact, he added, it is almost as though the country is back where it started a year ago.

"We have to think through, all over again - what's the right calibration of measures (and) how far do we want to go in terms of the restrictions," he said.

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He stressed that Singapore's safeguards are not watertight.

As long as there is a weakness in any line of the country's defence - for example, someone who feels ill but does not see a doctor - a superspreader event with multiple virus clusters could emerge. "And then we will be running around trying to chase after the virus all over again, like what happened at the beginning of last year," Mr Wong said.

Both ministers stressed that Singapore still has a long way to go and must remain vigilant, even though the end is in sight with the nationwide vaccination programme well under way.

If all goes according to plan, Singapore will have enough vaccines for all citizens and long-term residents by the third quarter of this year.

"But between now and the third quarter of this year, there are many months, and many things can happen during this period," Mr Wong said. "So let's stay alert, let's stay vigilant, let's rally together and complete our mission to defeat Covid-19 together."

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