Singapore needs to keep up COVID-19 safe measures until more people are vaccinated: Chief health scientist

Singapore needs to keep up COVID-19 safe measures until more people are vaccinated: Chief health scientist

Tan Chorh Chuan vaccine shot
Singapore's chief health scientist Tan Chorh Chuan is vaccinated at the National University Hospital on Jan 11, 2021. (Photo: NUHS)

SINGAPORE: Vaccination is being rolled out in Singapore but it has yet to achieve the coverage required, and safe management measures are still required to keep transmission of COVID-19 down, said chief health scientist Tan Chorh Chuan on Thursday (Mar 18) at a business webinar.

Professor Tan was speaking to business executives about the implications of COVID-19 vaccination for businesses in Singapore during the online conference organised by the Singapore Business Federation.

"It is very important that during this period when we are still vaccinating the population, and have not achieved the extent of coverage that we require that we maintain safe management measures," he said.

This is so that the country can continue to keep the epidemic transmission down and safeguard vulnerable individuals, he said. 

He added: "But for vaccinated individuals, it seems likely that some lightening of measures under safe conditions can be progressively looked at and introduced, for example, testing requirements, and so on."

Prof Tan said that about 10 per cent of the Singapore population has got at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine thus far. 

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The Ministry of Health (MOH) said that as of Monday, more than 792,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered, with more than 549,000 people receiving at least the first dose. Of those, 243,000 have received their second dose and completed the full vaccination regimen.

"It's very important for as many people who can have the vaccination to take the vaccination. And that is because it protects individuals and reduces mortality and morbidity, but it also indirectly protects those who ... cannot take the vaccine," Prof Tan said.

"If you have a virus, which is infectious to the extent of COVID-19, then about 60 to 70 per cent of the population would need to be protected."

WORKERS WERE NOT VACCINATING DUE TO "INERTIA"

Following Prof Tan's keynote speech, a panel of business leaders answered questions from the attendees on vaccination and how it might affect their firms.

Mr Alex Hungate, the president & CEO of aviation services company SATS, explained how the firm was able to surpass its projected vaccination rate of 70 per cent to get 90 per cent of the estimated 6,000 employees inoculated. 

He said after noticing in the first week that some workers were not stepping forward for immunisation, the company ran focus groups to find out why.

"We realised that a lot of it was down to inertia. People had concerns and questions ... they weren't necessarily against taking the vaccine, but neither were they highly motivated to go and speak to a doctor or a professional about their concerns," he said.

After the first week, they switched from an opt-in to an opt-out system for vaccinations and facilitated one-on-one discussions with a medical professional for people who wanted to discuss their individual cases.

This and other measures helped boost vaccination rates, he said.

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Mr Hungate and Ms Kwee Wei-Lin, the president of the Singapore Hotel Association, both said that there has been little change in how workers are rostered or the way they work after vaccination, in response to a question about whether companies should differentiate between workers based on their vaccination status.

"Many of our hotels had already been serving as stay-home notice hotels for at least the past year ... so we have been very closely following (safety protocols). We see vaccination as another additional tool to help us protect against COVID," said Ms Kwee, while adding that they may reconsider this in the future.

The main difference for now was that vaccinated workers do not have to be tested for COVID-19 as frequently.

Said Mr Hungate: "In the aviation world, there is a certain amount of routine testing that we do. If you're not vaccinated, the intensity of the testing is higher."

But he added later in response to further questions: "We're not taking the position of no vaccine, no job. We would never do that, we don't think that's ethically or morally acceptable to do that."

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Participants also asked the panellists if a company can ask their staff or visitors to declare if they have been vaccinated.

Prof Tan said that with extensive vaccination, and measures in place to manage imported cases, this may not even be necessary. But he emphasised that this was his personal view and did not reflect MOH policy.

"I think that during this transitional period, we should expect that many of the measures have to continue because of the many susceptible individuals," he said.

"When we have reached a high coverage and if we put in place measures to mitigate imported cases, then in fact, actually the community situation would probably not require very extensive checking, etc. Except maybe for some very special situations where the events, activities entail much higher risk."

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Source: CNA/hm(ac)

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