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Singapore may have no choice but to tighten measures if COVID-19 spread amplified by 'unnecessary' risks: Lawrence Wong

Singapore may have no choice but to tighten measures if COVID-19 spread amplified by 'unnecessary' risks: Lawrence Wong

A notice warning people not to gather in groups larger than five is displayed at Raffles Place in Singapore on Jan 4, 2022. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: Singapore may have no choice but to tighten measures if COVID-19 transmission is amplified by "unnecessary" risks and the healthcare system is overwhelmed, said multi-ministry task force co-chair Lawrence Wong on Wednesday (Jan 5).

Speaking at a COVID-19 multi-ministry task force news conference, Mr Wong stressed the importance of Singaporeans adhering to safe management measures amid an expected rise in cases due to the Omicron variant.

"If we continue to stay disciplined and comply with all the SMMs (safe management measures) then we have a much higher chance of getting through this upcoming wave without having to tighten further," said Mr Wong.

"But if we were to let our guard down and take unnecessary risk, then transmission will be amplified, the infection wave will be much larger. We will end up with greater pressure on our healthcare system, and we may have no choice but to tighten."

Giving the example of the New Year’s Eve large gathering in front of Riverside Point in the Clarke Quay area, Mr Wong said such actions are "not acceptable".

"I can understand why people are keen to celebrate the new year, but such actions are not acceptable, especially when we are still in the midst of a pandemic," said Mr Wong.

"The enforcement agencies are continuing with the investigations, they are reviewing CCTV footages to identify the culprits. These people will be called in for interviews and enforcement actions will be taken against those who have breached the rules."

Mr Wong pointed out that the authorities have done everything they can to prepare for the upcoming wave of infections caused by the Omicron variant.

"We have taken the time over the relative period of calm in December to strengthen our healthcare system and to review and update our healthcare protocols," Mr Wong noted.

"Our situation in Singapore is different from that in America and many European countries. There, they had moved to liberalise, open up and remove many, if not all of their restrictions.

"And then when the Omicron surge happened in these countries, many of them reinstated restrictions ... In Singapore we have maintained the whole series of basic and sensible safe management measures - be it wearing of masks, keeping safe distance from one another, or having group sizes maintained at a certain level."

These safe management measures are "important and appropriate", added Mr Wong.

"We will try our very best to ride through the upcoming wave of Omicron infections with our current SMM posture. In other words, we intend to keep to this posture as far as possible, we don't intend to relax further at this time, and we'll try not to have to tighten."

The key priority, he said, is to protect the healthcare system.

"So if our hospital beds and our ICUs are not overwhelmed, then indeed we will be able to ride through this upcoming wave based on our current SMM settings. And we are hopeful that this will indeed be the case especially given the indications that Omicron cases are not as severe."

But at the same time, it is also important that Singapore is prepared for "all contingencies", Mr Wong added.

RESTRICTIONS DURING CHINESE NEW YEAR

In response to a question on COVID-19 restrictions during the Chinese New Year period, Mr Wong said that current rules will apply. Theses include restrictions on group sizes for gatherings, which are capped at five.

"We are keeping to the present posture, group sizes remain at five, certainly through this wave. When will the wave pass? No one knows, but I can't imagine the wave passing before Chinese New Year," Mr Wong said.

"So very clearly, through this period and through Chinese New Year, the current rules will be maintained."

When asked if lion dance performances during Chinese New Year will be allowed, Mr Wong stressed that prevailing safe management measures in place today will stay.

"I'm not sure what we have specific to lion dances but if there is any doubt, we can put out a clarification so that the groups know exactly what to do. But we intend essentially to keep to the status quo."

Given that the Chinese New Year period could potentially fuel a surge in Omicron cases, Mr Wong stressed the need for Singaporeans to "continue exercising personal and social responsibility" and to "comply and cooperate" with all the safe management measures.

"Let's all do our part to keep our family members, our friends and our loved ones safe even as we usher in the new year," he said.

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Source: CNA/mt(gr)

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