07/12/2021 / By Zoey Sky
Back in June, Singapore’s trade, finance and health ministers announced that the country is “drawing up a road map” to navigate the new normal amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
This might sound like good news, especially since this entails treating the coronavirus “like the flu” and eventually relaxing strict management rules.
But at what cost? After all, Singapore’s broad road map entails mass vaccination.
Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung are co-chairs of the country’s COVID-19 multi-ministry task force.
In a joint op-ed, Gan, Wong and Ong, reported that Singapore could be one of the first countries to stop recording daily coronavirus case numbers to help citizens resume their old lives by treating the virus “like the flu.”
Since the pandemic spread across the globe, Singapore has only recorded 36 deaths. This was made possible through the implementation of strict rules to curb the infection rate.
However, in a shocking about-face, officials have announced that the country could soon ditch measures like tracking infection numbers daily. According to the COVID-19 task force’s blueprint, Singapore’s 18-month restrictions will soon end to allow for “quarantine-free travel and public gatherings.”
Singapore’s population of 5.7 million has recorded 62,617 coronavirus cases as of writing, but the task force’s proposal could spell an end to a daily tally count. The co-chairs said that the move was considered to help citizens resume their old lives by relaxing strict measures.
However, Singapore will attempt to control the coronavirus by enforcing mass vaccination and focusing “on the outcomes,” like how many patients are sick, how many are in the intensive care unit (ICU), or how many need to be intubated for oxygen.
The co-chairs admitted that it might be near impossible to totally eradicate the coronavirus, but the task force will attempt to turn the pandemic into “something much less threatening, like influenza, hand, foot and mouth disease, or chickenpox” so Singaporeans can go back to normal routines.
Not surprisingly, the ministers said that vaccination will be key to curbing infections in the country, ignoring the fact that various coronavirus vaccines have been linked to many dangerous side effects like skin conditions and heart inflammation. (Related: Singapore: People vaccinated with Sinovac not exempt from pre-event testing.)
The task force attempted to soften the announcement of a planned mass vaccination by telling citizens that the coronavirus “may never go away,” but that it’s also “possible to live normally with it.”
The country’s task force has yet to release full details of the road map, but the ministers discussed the four steps it will include: vaccination, testing, improved treatments and social responsibility.
During his broadcast on May 31, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore aims to have two-thirds of the population receive at least their first dose by early July. The next goal is to have at least two-thirds of the population fully vaccinated with two doses around the first week of August.
But the road map doesn’t stop at mass vaccination.
The task force claims that to protect Singaporeans against the coronavirus and to “defend against new mutant strains resistant to current vaccines,” citizens will also need booster shots in the future through “a comprehensive, multi-year vaccination program.”
Singapore will still enforce testing and surveillance, but with a different focus. Testing will still be conducted at Singapore’s borders to identify anyone carrying the virus, particularly variants of concern.
But domestically, testing will be less of a tool for ring-fencing and quarantining anyone exposed to infected patients. Instead, testing will be used to ensure that events, social activities and overseas trips can take resume safely.
Testing will also be used to reduce transmission risks, particularly among those vulnerable to infections.
Singapore doesn’t want to rely only on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, which can be uncomfortable and take much longer to produce results. To make testing fast and easy, the country rolled out antigen rapid tests along with self-tests to polyclinics, private clinics, employers, premises owners and pharmacies.
The task force is also working on even faster test kits like breathalyzers that will only take around one to two minutes to produce the results without the need for swabbing. Singapore is also considering wastewater testing, which can be used to determine if there are hidden infections in heavily populated areas like dormitories, hostels, or housing estates.
The country is also hoping that researchers across the globe will eventually find a cure for COVID-19. The task force also insists that Singapore’s impressive mortality rate, which is among the lowest in the world, is all thanks to these “effective treatments.”
Singapore’s Ministry of Health tracks these developments closely to ensure that the country has enough supplies of these drugs. At the same time, medical researchers also participate in the development of new treatments.
The importance of social responsibility
The task force ministers also emphasized the importance of social responsibility to effectively curb infections.
This last prong of the road plan is the most reasonable, as it includes effective ways to prevent infections, such as maintaining good personal hygiene and staying at home and resting if you feel unwell to reduce transmission.
In the U.K., health secretary Sajid Javid insisted that Britain has to “learn to live with [COVID-19],” as it does with the flu. He promised to end remaining coronavirus restrictions on July 19 to make Britain the “most open country in Europe.”
Like the Singaporean task force, Javid also wants people to get vaccinated as soon as they can because the vaccination program is “the single biggest contribution” citizens can make to this national effort, health freedom be damned.
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