SINGAPORE: Singapore is now on a knife-edge, with community case numbers that could go either way over the next few weeks, said Minister for Education Lawrence Wong in Parliament on Tuesday (May 11).
In a ministerial statement on the Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mr Wong said Singapore has a chance of “getting things under control” by the end of the month – referring to a rise in local community cases over the past few weeks, such as recent clusters related to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and Changi Airport.
“But as we know from experience, it only takes one lapse or one irresponsible action for an infection to happen; and that infection may end up being a super-spreader event in the community,” said Mr Wong, who is the co-chair of the multi-ministry task force dealing with COVID-19.
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He added that “a full suite” of protective community measures is needed, as even the tightest of border controls might still see imported cases leaking into the country.
For example, when new cases pop up, close contacts are immediately isolated and ring-fenced, with a wide net of testing conducted for all persons with possible exposure to the infected case.
Even with these efforts, there will be a few occasions where more general movement restrictions will be needed – as was the case with the TTSH cluster, he said.
Mr Wong said that in that instance, authorities could not be sure if there were still hidden cases out there in the community, even after efforts to ring-fence cases.
He acknowledged the fact that such measures pose “considerable inconvenience” to Singaporeans.
“There are several public holidays coming up in the month of May ... I know in particular this must be very disappointing for our Malay-Muslim community – having to observe these strict rules during Hari Raya and to curtail your normal family visits for a second year.
“Likewise for the Buddhist community during Vesak Day. I hope everyone understands why the latest measures are necessary. I thank everyone for taking the latest measures in your stride and seek your cooperation to abide by the rules – not just with the letter of the law but also the spirit of it,” he said.
He urged all to do their part, by working from home, cutting back on social activities and staying home as much as possible during this period of tightened movement restrictions.
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SINGAPORE'S IMPROVED CAPABILITIES
But it is not the first time Singapore has had to deal with spikes in community cases, Mr Wong said, adding that the country’s capabilities have been significantly strengthened.
“Our testing capacity is much larger – we tested about 35,000 swabs per day in the past week, and have the lab capacity to test up to 73,000 per day, or even more with pooled testing,” he said.
TraceTogether and Safe Entry are also “more pervasive” now, meaning contact tracing can be done more quickly, he said.
He added that vaccination has been “a major game-changer”.
“We haven’t vaccinated everyone yet, but we have covered most of our older population as well as our healthcare and frontline workers at the air and sea ports and our stay-home notice hotels and dormitories. This puts us in a much safer position,” he said.
Mr Wong also said that experience over the past year has shown that if the country acts swiftly to contain cases, test, and if all exercise individual and social responsibility, the spread of the virus can be suppressed.
“We’ve brought down infection rates in the community before, and we can do it again this time,” he said.
“THERE IS NO PLACE FOR DISCRIMINATION”
Mr Wong also thanked frontline staff who have been fighting the virus for more than a year, saying the best way to support them was to take health measures seriously.
This includes getting vaccinated when it is offered, he said.
He also urged against spreading falsehoods or unverified information that creates “needless fear”, or fosters “suspicions” in society.
“This is not a Chinese virus or an Indian variant. This is a global pandemic – the virus and its variants are out there everywhere in the world.
“There is no place for discrimination, racism or xenophobia here,” he said.
He added that Singapore has had its share of setbacks over the past year in its fight against COVID-19, but it has bounced back from them.
Mr Wong said: “Let’s draw confidence from what we have been through; let’s brace ourselves for the rest of the marathon, complete the race together, and emerge stronger at the finish line.”
Watch his full ministerial statement: