Return to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) does not change roadmap of treating COVID-19 as endemic: Ong Ye Kung
SINGAPORE: The recent return to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) does not change the Government’s roadmap towards treating COVID-19 as endemic and living normally with the coronavirus, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in Parliament on Monday (Jul 26).
The tighter restrictions were reintroduced on Jul 22 and are set to last until Aug 18.
Mr Ong acknowledged that the return to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) has caused "some confusion" among the public.
"They ask - Is the multi-ministerial task force committed to the path towards normalcy and living with COVID-19?” said Mr Ong, who co-chairs the task force.
“The answer is a definite yes. For that is the only way for Singaporeans to regain our lives and livelihoods, and for Singapore to reconnect with the world again.”
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Mr Ong said that unlike some countries like the United Kingdom where all social restrictions are lifted at once, Singapore's reopening will be a controlled one.
“We are not going to do a big bang because predictably things will then blow up,” he said, adding that the COVID-19 multi-ministerial task force has been developing a roadmap comprising packages of measures to be implemented step-by-step, over the coming few months.
“But even as we do so, we must bear in mind that until we reach a sufficiently high vaccination rate, especially among our seniors, we will continue to be vulnerable to unexpected setbacks, like what we are going through now,” he said.
"A high rate of vaccination will provide us with a more solid and stable base as we proceed on this journey. The higher the vaccination rate, the more solid the ground we walk on."
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Singapore has seen a recent spike in COVID-19 infections, with many cases linked to the clusters at Jurong Fishery Port/Hong Lim Market and Food Centre and KTVs.
Describing the current situation as “the most peculiar period of our transition”, Mr Ong said: “We are clear about the mission, our will is firm, and we have a broad plan. But we don’t have enough antibodies inside us to ensure that we can follow through with our plans without a hitch.
"But let us not underestimate the progress we have made. The roadmap is in fact being implemented as we speak."
While people's attention is often on safe management measures and whether they can dine in, Mr Ong pointed to other important aspects of Singapore's roadmap - shifting the collective psychology and adjusting healthcare protocols.
Shifting Singapore’s collective psychology will be the “hardest” aspect, he said.
This involves moving away from always focusing on infection numbers.
“We used to get a shock when we saw high daily numbers because that meant a week or two from then, more severe illnesses and deaths. However, in recent days, that mental link is being broken, as we know that with vaccinations, high infection numbers need not necessarily mean more sickness and deaths,” Mr Ong said.
"Many people are now rightfully focusing on the number of people with severe illnesses. As of today, despite higher infection cases over the past few days, that number is 14, and does not threaten our hospital capacity."
There also needs to be a shift towards greater acceptance of differentiated safe management measures for those who are vaccinated, said the Health Minister, noting that this is something that the task force has always intended to do.
For instance, before going back to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), authorities announced that people who are fully vaccinated may be allowed to gather in groups of up to eight, while the five-person limit will apply to unvaccinated people.
“When our whole society is very highly vaccinated and we have transitioned to living with COVID-19, we should make very little differentiation between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated,” he said.
“But during the period of transition, when we are still building up our resilience, differentiation by vaccination status is a practical way to open up some activities first, while protecting those who are still vulnerable.”
The task force will revisit the matter during the midpoint review of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) measures, he said.