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Singapore’s COVID-19 vaccination rates ‘not high enough’ to provide sufficient protection: Lawrence Wong

Singapore’s COVID-19 vaccination rates ‘not high enough’ to provide sufficient protection: Lawrence Wong

A healthcare worker prepares to administer a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine during a vaccination exercise at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) in Singapore on Dec 30, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Lee Jia Wen, Ministry of Communications and Information, handout)

SINGAPORE: Singapore’s vaccination rates are currently “still not high enough” to provide sufficient protection in the population, said co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministerial task force Lawrence Wong on Friday (Jun 18).  

Speaking at a press conference, he noted the views of some people who think that since COVID-19 could be endemic, Singapore should proceed with easing measures as planned and “not overreact to each and every new cluster”. 

“I can understand the sentiments behind this, and indeed, we do want to proceed with our reopening more confidently,” said Mr Wong. 

“But our vaccination rates currently are still not high enough to provide sufficient protection.” 

It was announced on Friday that under Singapore's two-step approach to reopening, dining-in and other higher-risk activities will resume on the target date of Jun 21 - but in groups of two instead of five as previously planned. 

READ: Bukit Merah View COVID-19 cluster: Virus could have spread via long queues, surfaces in toilets, says MOH

The adjustment in plans comes amid a persistent number of unlinked COVID-19 cases, with authorities noting a large cluster around 115 Bukit Merah View Market and Food Centre.

“Regrettably, we are unable to proceed with our second stage of reopening in light of the latest outbreaks and big cluster that we have discovered in Bukit Merah, and now we have to adjust our plans,” said Mr Wong. 

ROLE OF VARIANTS

There is also the view that Singapore should push back its reopening to a much later date until COVID-19 cases are consistently near-zero for many days, noted Mr Wong, who is also the Finance Minister. 

“This is in fact very hard to achieve, and may not even be possible to do so, given how transmissible that Delta variant is,” he said.

“And if we were to take this approach, it will mean we have restrictive measures in place for many months, which will cause many businesses to fold. So that's not a very realistic option.” 

READ: Dining-in to resume from Jun 21 but in groups of two, not five 

Forty-nine per cent of the population have taken their first doses of vaccination, and “slightly over” 35 per cent are fully vaccinated with both doses, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Friday at the same press conference. 

As of Jun 15, more than 4.7 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccination have been administered in Singapore, he added. More than 2.7 million people have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

“And that's not high enough, particularly the full vaccination rates. Our vaccine coverage for the vulnerable groups, the elderly, it's not bad. It's certainly above 60 per cent but still not high enough, especially for those who are above 70 years old. We would like it to be much higher in order to protect our vulnerable groups,” said Mr Wong. 

“So if we were to ease our restrictions too early, big clusters can easily break out and overwhelm us and result in higher hospitalisation and even mortality for the vulnerable groups. That's exactly what we are worried about.” 

READ: Shorter wait for Moderna COVID-19 vaccine slots, experts urge residents not to wait to get shots

Other countries are facing similar situations. The UK decided to push back its timeline for reopening because of the same concerns, he added. 

“And that's why we are not adopting either approach. Instead, we are treading a very careful path forward based on a rigorous assessment of our current situation,” said Mr Wong. 

“Hence, we have decided to break up the reopening into two steps. And our main objective with this stage of reopening is to buy time so that we can continue to speed up our vaccination programme.” 

READ: Work-from-home to remain as default; Jobs Support Scheme extended to July

F&B outlets and gyms cannot be “opening and closing in tandem” with the number of COVID-19 infections and clusters, said Mr Ong. 

“But for us to adopt that approach, our vaccination rates will have to be higher so that all of us are better protected,” he added. 

“It will go higher in the coming weeks, and we are vaccinating as fast as we can … We have the capacity to do a lot more, but we are constrained by supplies and how many vaccines arrive in Singapore,” said Mr Ong. 

“So without higher vaccination rates, the infection numbers will still matter because higher infections can lead to more severe illnesses, especially amongst those who are more vulnerable.” 

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Source: CNA/hw(gs)

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