Singapore planning for a new normal of living with Covid-19: PM Lee

SINGAPORE - Singapore is planning for a new normal, where its people can carry on with their lives while the virus is in their midst, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday (May 31).

Addressing the nation, PM Lee sketched out a scenario where people will be able to go to work and meet their friends, take part in large-scale events such as concerts, and eventually even go around without masks outdoors.

Singapore is still "some ways off from this happy state, but we are heading in the right direction", said Mr Lee.

The country will get there if people continue to work together, such as by continuing to get vaccinated, taking annual booster shots and getting tested for Covid-19 often.

"If we stay united and continue to work together, we will be able to progressively open up and achieve our aim," he said.

"In the new normal, Covid-19 will not dominate our lives."

While the global pandemic will eventually subside, Covid-19 is likely to become an endemic disease that does not become fully eradicated among humans, said Mr Lee.

This means Singapore must expect to see small outbreaks of the disease here from time to time, he added.

"Our aim must be to keep the community as a whole safe, while accepting that some people may get infected every now and then."

The way Covid-19 will be managed will be closer to the way the common flu or dengue fever is tackled, through public health measures and personal precautions.

As in the case of the flu, regular vaccinations could be part of the strategy, he said.

In the new normal, testing for Covid-19 will also be more frequent, but it will be fast and easy, he added.

More liberal and extensive testing is one part of the three-pronged strategy that Mr Lee outlined on Monday that form Singapore's adjusted strategy to keep Covid-19 under control in the light of new and more infectious strains of the virus.

Different Covid-19 tests that are now available include antigen rapid tests, saliva tests, breathalysers and even DIY kits that can soon be bought over the counter, Mr Lee noted.

The other two parts of the strategy are faster and wider contact tracing to isolate close contacts more quickly, and an accelerated national vaccination programme that prioritises first-dose vaccinations.

Living with endemic Covid-19 also means the country does not completely close its borders, he added.

"We need food, essential supplies, workers, business and other travellers to keep on flowing. We must stay connected to the world, with effective safeguards and border restrictions to keep Singaporeans safe," he said.

"We will not be able to prevent some infected persons from slipping through from time to time. But as long as our population is mostly vaccinated, we should be able to trace, isolate and treat the cases that pop up, and prevent a severe and disastrous outbreak."

Singapore's priority now is to get through the pandemic and position itself strongly for the future even as the virus continues to rage around it, said Mr Lee.

Mr Lee pledged that the country will emerge tougher and more confident than before, having experienced and overcome Covid-19 together as one nation.

"In this new normal, the countries which are united, disciplined and (have) put in place sensible safeguards, will be able to reopen their economies, reconnect to the rest of the world (to) grow and prosper," said Mr Lee.

"Singapore will be among these countries."

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