S'pore always on lookout for Covid-19 variants of concern but none significant recently: Ong Ye Kung

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung (right) and Sembawang GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak looking at products at a farmer's market at Woodlands Sports Pavilion on April 3, 2022. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

SINGAPORE - Singapore is always watching out for variants of concern declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO) although no significant ones have been detected recently, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Sunday (April 3).

On the Covid-19 variants XE, XD and XF that have been detected in other parts of the world, Mr Ong noted that such variants are there all the time, but these are not much cause for concern.

Speaking to reporters at the sidelines of a farmers' market at Woodlands Sports Pavilion, he said: "There are plenty of variants, but many of them are like us humans. Today you wear this earring, tomorrow you change your earring. That's all it is. You're still the same person."

What Singapore needs to watch out for are variants of concern flagged by the WHO, as these are variants with different characteristics from the past, added Mr Ong.

"These are either more severe, more transmissible or the vaccines don't work as well… As of now, we're watching out for those and monitoring the general development," he said.

"The risk of a variant is always there so it's one of the things we have to monitor internationally to make sure there are no variants of concern that will pull us back to square one, which is always possible."

A new Covid-19 variant XE - a mutation of the BA.1 and the BA.2 Omicron strains - has been found in the United Kingdom, and WHO has said it is monitoring the variant.

Since last Tuesday (March 29), wearing a mask outdoors has been optional as Singapore enters a new phase of living with Covid-19.

Other key changes include doubling of group sizes to 10 people and lifting of most restrictions for fully vaccinated visitors entering Singapore.

Mr Ong noted that a majority of people are still cautious, even as measures are relaxed, which is a good sign.

"When you walk along the streets, most people still have their masks on. But when it's very hot and you're walking alone, some take their masks off, which is totally sensible," said Mr Ong.

When rules are eased, personal responsibility goes up, he added, reiterating the point he made in an interview last Friday with Finance Minister Lawrence Wong.

"We have to move towards that situation so that we can live normally, and so our own personal responsibility becomes very important. So far, I think we've done remarkably well."

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung planting herbs with pupils at a rooftop garden in Woodlands on April 3, 2022. ST PHOTO: FELINE LIM

On Sunday, Mr Ong, together with Sembawang GRC MPs Poh Li San, Vikram Nair and Lim Wee Kiak, attended the constituency's first farmers' market since the Covid-19 pandemic.

The market, which aims to promote green spaces and food sustainability through community gardens and commercial rooftop farms, was attended by around 1,000 residents who arrived at staggered timings.

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