SINGAPORE: Singaporeans must stay “disciplined and vigilant” in the fight against COVID-19 as the virus is not likely to go away, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Jun 9).
“We have to be realistic and gird ourselves for more challenging times,” he said in a televised address.
“We must therefore adapt to COVID-19 and learn to live with it over the long-term. This does not depend upon Government actions alone. Every one of us, Government, businesses and individuals, must do our part. What’s critical is people’s behaviour and mindsets.”
Mr Wong was speaking at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, as part of a series of national broadcasts where Cabinet ministers will lay out the nation’s plans post-COVID-19.
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BETTER CONTACT TRACING, BIGGER TESTING CAPACITY
As Singapore reopens following a two-month “circuit breaker” period, its ability to control COVID-19 infections becomes critical, said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force on the virus.
Contract tracing and testing is a big part of this, he said.
Members of the police and Singapore Armed Forces are now part of expanded contact tracing teams, Mr Wong noted, adding that digital tools such as the SafeEntry system and TraceTogether app have allowed authorities to speed up the process.
“I seek everyone’s understanding and cooperation. Please use these important tools, they will help us slow down the spread of the virus and save lives,” he said.
At the same time, Singapore is procuring more COVID-19 test kits, building more laboratory capacity, as well as recruiting and training more laboratory technicians and people to carry out swabs and take blood samples.
In April, about 2,000 tests a day were done.
Singapore is now able to conduct about 13,000 tests a day and is “on track” to reach 40,000 tests a day in the coming months, said Mr Wong.
“This expanded testing capacity is critical,” he added.
“It means that we can test higher-risk groups more extensively. We can also do more surveillance testing in the community, including those with respiratory symptoms. This will give us a faster and more accurate sense of the number of cases circulating undetected.”
Apart from standard testing methods, Mr Wong said authorities are extracting waste water from manholes to test for viral fragments.
“This provides an additional indicator to tell us if a specific group, such as those living in a dormitory, has infected people amongst them,” he said.
Singapore is also using serology tests to identify those who were previously infected but may have since recovered, and have developed antibodies that can help them fight the virus.
IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
Beyond the Government’s efforts, people must practise social responsibility in upholding good personal hygiene and safe distancing measures, Mr Wong said.
These include washing hands regularly, wearing a mask, avoiding crowded places and seeing a doctor immediately if they are unwell.
“We’ve been emphasising all this for some time,” said the minister. “But it bears repeating, because individually, these are steps everyone can take to protect ourselves and our loved ones.”
Collectively, these actions will make “all the difference” in keeping COVID-19 at bay, he said, adding that they will enable Singapore to reopen safely and sustainably like in Denmark and New Zealand.
“Conversely, if we are lax in our personal precautions, new cases and new clusters will multiply quickly, and despite our best efforts to test and trace, we might end up in another circuit breaker down the road,” Mr Wong cautioned.
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Still, Singaporeans must be mentally prepared to see more new cases as human contact increases with the end of the circuit breaker.
“This has happened in many other places which exited from their lockdowns, and we must expect it to happen here too,” he said. “The key is whether we are able to keep community infection rates stable. If so, we can continue on the path of progressive easing.”
That is why Singapore has been “very cautious” in its reopening, Mr Wong said, stressing that “we are not going back to life before the circuit breaker”.
“The vast majority of our population have not been exposed to the virus and are still vulnerable to the disease,” he said.
But Singaporeans have the ability to see through this crisis, Mr Wong added, noting that many have gone “the extra mile” to help others in need during this period.
“This is the Singapore spirit that gives us the confidence to press ahead, no matter how tough the odds,” he said.
“The road ahead is unpredictable, and countries everywhere are continuing to search for answers and solutions,” Mr Wong added.
“There is no guaranteed formula for success. But it is our grit and resilience, our compassion and kindness, our cohesion and strength that will see us through this crisis of our generation So let us continue to stand together, unshaken in spirit and resolve.”