The recent COVID-19 measures make sense. The MTF should have enacted this once they declared Singapore’s pandemic to endemic transition. However, the complaints I have seen online highlight the short-sightedness of some Singaporeans. It is very worrisome to see the growing support for individuals like Brad Bowyer who continue to share anti-vax messages on Telegram channels. Hence, I felt obligated to respond in my personal capacity.
Let’s consider the facts. Almost 85% of the population are vaccinated. 98.4% of all detected cases are mild or asymptomatic. Of the 1.6% of the severe ICU cases, two-thirds are unvaccinated.
Based on these facts, there are several conclusions we can make. We do not know exactly how many of us have been infected by COVID-19, but there is no reason to panic. People who are asymptomatic but test positive do not even need to visit the doctor. They can just self-isolate and end the isolation if a retest after 72 hours is negative. COVID-19 is no longer deadly for vaccinated people. Hence, COVID-19 should be dealt with like a common flu moving forward.
Next, there is a disproportionately high number of unvaccinated people in the ICU. Unvaccinated seniors account for barely 1.5% of the population but they make up two-thirds of those who needed ICU care or died. The remaining one-third of fully vaccinated people who needed ICU care or have died from from a pool of more than 4.5 million people. The vast majority who needed intensive care were older people. The only two below the age of 50 years were both unvaccinated.
Director of Medical Services Kenneth Mak said that the unvaccinated are 14 times more likely to become seriously ill, if infected. This number does not account for the effect of age on COVID-19 (the older you are, the more vulnerable). Hence, if we want to reopen safely, we do so by protecting the unvaccinated people from the vaccinated. Therefore, I welcome the new restrictions for the persistently unvaccinated individuals to protect them from us.
The vast majority of the population are resilient to COVID-19. Hence, we must free up more manpower from hospitals to serve the ICU cases and normal healthcare functions. I welcome the home recovery programme (HRP). However, instead of a fancy name, individuals with mild symptoms or are asymptomatic should just be presented with an ordinary MC to signal that COVID-19 for vaccinated people is not really a big deal.
It is a sensible move for Singapore to expand its Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTL) to 11 more countries. I welcome that decision. Singapore is a business hub and depends on globalisation to uphold that status. It’s not just business travels, the option to allow travels for leisure can help improve the attractiveness of Singapore as a hub for ASEAN.
However, the government must change its COVID-19 testing strategy. The number of daily infected cases only causes irrational fear and panic to the public. These numbers are dependent on the government’s testing regime. Hence, instead of testing mild or asymptomatic cases, the government should focus its efforts on the vulnerable population.
We know where the vulnerable populations are – the unvaccinated and the elderly. Our testing regime must thereby focus on people closest to them. Unvaccinated people who live with elderly residents should be tested frequently to protect the elderly from COVID-19. It may also incentivise them to get vaccinated to avoid the regular PCR tests.
Additionally, more can be done to help us transit to some semblance of normalcy. Sports, arts, and culture took a heavy toll since 2020. To me, the signal of a COVID-19 resilient society is the day when people can play basketball and soccer again. When street dancers would fill SMU’s basement and inject vibrancy into our mundane lives. I have faith that this day will arrive – be it 3 months or 3 years. And I hope Singapore and Singaporeans would act rationally to make this day possible.
By Kenneth Lim