Living with COVID: Singapore has to find own way forward, says Lawrence Wong

Living with COVID: Singapore has to find own way forward, says Lawrence Wong

Singapore is not like the US, UK or Europe.  Neither are we like China and New Zealand. Singapore will have to find our own way forward based on our own circumstances, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said.

Speaking to students at NTU Students’ Union Ministerial Forum on “Emerging Stronger“, Mr Wong said there are different views about the pace and extent of Singapore’s reopening.

One camp questions why we aren’t opening up more aggressively like the US, UK and other European countries since we have already achieved very high vaccination rates. Another group thinks we are moving too fast because we still have so many cases in the community every day. They cite countries like China and New Zealand that are doing very stringent restrictions. Why aren’t we having a lockdown, this group asks.

Achieving zero cases is not feasible for Singapore

To understand Singapore’s approach, we first have to recognise that it will not be possible to eradicate the virus. We will probably have to live with COVID-19 for a long time.

The only way for Singapore to achieve near-zero or low cases of COVID-19 is to be on perpetual lockdowns and to isolate ourselves completely from the world because the SARs-CoV-2 is going to be everywhere.

“Clearly, that’s not going to be feasible,” Mr Wong said.

So we have to learn to live with the virus, just like how we live with other infectious diseases including influenza and chickenpox, Mr Wong added.

We can safely reopen because of our high vaccination rate

Mr Wong pointed out that while we are more similar to countries like China and New Zealand in that we have very low infection rates and a population that is largely naive to the virus, we have a much higher rate of vaccination compared to these 2 countries.

In fact, we are by now, among one of the most highly vaccinated countries in the world. This gives us the confidence to take steps to reopen safely, Mr Wong said. With our high vaccination rates, even if the daily infections were to rise, we should be able to keep the number of severely ill or ICU cases at an acceptable and stable level. This is because vaccinated people are less likely to fall sick when they catch the virus.

We do not want to open up in a big bang

However, we do not want to open up in a big bang like what many Western countries have done.

Mr Wong explained that many of these countries have already experienced huge outbreaks over the past year.

In the UK for example, more than 25% of its population have already been infected. The UK has also managed to vaccinate a very high proportion of its vulnerable seniors. About 90 to 95% of their seniors above 70 are vaccinated. This is why they are prepared to let the virus run its course through their population.

Singapore is in a different position

“We have good vaccination outcomes but we still want it to be better, especially amongst our seniors, and we do not want to take the risk of having huge outbreaks that will overwhelm our hospital system,” said Mr Wong.

“That’s why we are taking a step-by-step approach in opening up and controlling the pace of opening. We’re not like the US, UK or Europe; neither are we like China and New Zealand.  We have to find our own path forward based on our own circumstances.”

Singapore is one of the few countries in the world that has been able to manage the pandemic so far, up till now, while keeping our hospital system intact and maintaining a low death toll.

“Our overriding objective is to get to the end of this pandemic with as little death and damage as possible, even as we progressively resume most of our normal lives.”

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