SINGAPORE - Singapore will prepare its population to deal with Covid-19 as part of their daily lives and people will be able to work, travel and shop without quarantines and lockdowns, even with the coronavirus in their midst.
With enough people vaccinated, Covid-19 will be managed like other endemic diseases such as the common flu and hand, foot and mouth disease, said the three co-chairmen of the Government's multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 as they outlined plans for Singapore to transition to a new normal.
Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong and Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung said in an article published in The Straits Times on Thursday (June 24) that the priority in the next few months will be to prepare Singapore for life with Covid-19 as a recurring, controllable disease.
"It has been 18 months since the pandemic started and our people are battle-weary. All are asking: When and how will the pandemic end?" they said.
"The bad news is that Covid-19 may never go away. The good news is that it is possible to live normally with it in our midst."
A road map is being drawn up to shift to this new normal and it will be done in tandem with achieving certain vaccination milestones.
Singapore has been taking steps to prepare for Covid-19 becoming endemic and has ramped up its vaccination drive amid the battle to bring down the spike in cases.
Vaccination already appears to be effective in reducing the rates of infection and transmission. Most fully vaccinated people show mild or no symptoms even if they contract the disease.
By early next month, two-thirds of the population in Singapore will have received at least one jab of the two-jab vaccines, said the ministers.
"Our next milestone will be to have at least two-thirds of our population fully vaccinated with two doses around National Day, supply permitting. We are working to bring forward the delivery of vaccines and to speed up the process," they said.
In time, said the ministers, people with Covid-19 will be allowed to recover at home, so there will be less concern about the healthcare system being stressed. Their close contacts can buy test kits from pharmacies to test themselves.
In fact, testing will no longer be a tool for ring-fencing and quarantining people, but will be used more for screening those who want to enter office buildings, malls and schools, among other places.
The daily updates on infection numbers will also shift to focus on outcomes, such as how many patients fall very sick and end up needing intensive care, the same way the flu is monitored.
Slowly, safe management rules can be eased and large gatherings will once again be allowed, such as at the National Day Parade or New Year's Eve countdown.
Businesses will also not have to fear disruptions from lockdowns.
Eventually, people will be able to travel again, with vaccination certificates in hand, to countries that have also controlled the virus and turned it into an endemic norm. They may even be exempted from quarantine with a negative test upon arrival.
"Finally, whether we can live with Covid-19 depends also on Singaporeans' acceptance that Covid-19 will be endemic and our collective behaviour... If all of us shoulder the burden together - workers keeping their colleagues safe by staying at home when ill and employers not faulting them - our society will be so much safer," the ministers said.
They added: "Science and human ingenuity will eventually prevail over Covid-19. Cohesion and social consciousness will get us there faster. We must all do our part."