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Singapore does not rule out reimposing mask mandate, closely monitoring XBB wave: Ong Ye Kung

Singapore does not rule out reimposing mask mandate, closely monitoring XBB wave: Ong Ye Kung
A sign telling shoppers to put on their masks at Waterway Point in Punggol on Aug 29, 2022, when Singapore eased mask-wearing rules, requiring masks to be worn only on public transport and in healthcare facilities. (Photo: CNA/Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: Singapore does not rule out bringing back some COVID-19 restrictions, but it will try its "very best" not to disrupt the normal lives of people, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Saturday (Oct 15).

Giving an update on the latest COVID-19 wave of XBB infections, Mr Ong said at a Ministry of Health (MOH) press conference that the number of cases is rising, driven by the new Omicron strain and by reinfections.

The ministry is closely monitoring the situation, and it does not rule out reimposing safe management measures (SMM) such as mask-wearing, but he pointed out that the country is now riding out yet another wave without these measures.

"We have never declared that COVID is an endemic disease, some countries have. We have never declared that it's no longer a social health threat, some countries have. We much prefer to let action and our lives speak for itself," said Mr Ong.

"And what we have done is that with every successive wave that we have gone through, we relax the safe distancing, safe measurement measures ... to the extent that now almost everything has been dismantled.

"So for all, in reality, having done all that, in effect, we are living with COVID like it is an endemic disease ... look at where we are now - we're going through a wave without SMM."

Mr Ong said that Singapore will try its "very, very best" never to go back to the days of "circuit breaker", "heightened alert" or "anything that severely disrupt our normal lives".

Mr Ong urged people to take personal responsibility and take necessary precautions, amid the current rise in cases.

"Test yourself, isolate yourself when you're not feeling well, wear your mask if you don't feel well or if you're living with the elderly, to protect the elderly, wear your mask," he said. "If you're infected, Protocol 1, 2, 3 is still relevant."

Another precaution that hospitals have taken is to restrict visitors, he said. During the press conference on Saturday morning, Mr Ong and Director of Medical Services Kenneth Mak said that hospital capacity is being ramped up, and should be able to cope with the current wave.

Mr Ong also reminded people to go for vaccinations if they are eligible. He said that on Friday, Singapore started administering bivalent vaccine jabs, and completed about 4,200 vaccinations.

"If you're above 50 and have not received your three shots or if you're above 50, and your last shot is more than five months ago, consider walking into a joint testing and vaccination centre to receive your Moderna bivalent vaccine," he said.

"I've gotten mine ... this time round - hardly any side effects at all."

These are the measures that the Government has in place now, and if the situation should worsen, there could be more measures "in a way that doesn't disrupt our lives".

"I think the obvious one is number one, maybe we put back our masks, say indoor or indoor and outdoor, if the situation requires it," he said.

Another possibility is the return of vaccine-differentiated measures, Mr Ong added.

All such measures, like the requirement for one to be vaccinated in order to dine in at hawker centres and other food establishments, were lifted on Oct 10.

"We are monitoring the XBB rate closely and the impact on the healthcare system to see if some of these measures are necessary. As of now, no decision has to be taken."

Source: CNA/hm(ac)
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