The journey to living with COVID-19 has not been a smooth or easy one. With a highly vaccinated population (almost 85%), 98% of COVID-19 infections are either asymptomatic or mild, making it a disease not to be feared.
Only 2% of cases develop a serious illness or need ICU care. Some die. But 2% of a very large number of infections can translate to a big number of people who become seriously sick or die even.
Thus far, Singapore has kept our fatalities very low. In fact, our fatality rate is one of the lowest in the world. As of 9 October 2021, 153 people (0.1%) have died. But no matter how low, it is of no comfort to the family that saw a loved one depart because of COVID-19.
“We feel every single loss keenly. My deepest sympathies and condolences to all the families,” PM Lee said in his address to the nation on 9 October.
Moving forward, PM Lee expressed his worries for the elderly, especially those who are not vaccinated.
Nearly all of those who had died were elderly people with many pre-existing medical conditions. A disproportionate number are unvaccinated. Though they account for barely 1.5% of the population, they make up two-thirds of those who needed ICU care or died. The remaining one-third were vaccinated seniors.
While some seniors have died, let us also take note that many do recover too. Between 10 September – 30 September, around 2700 seniors age 70 and older were infected. Many have recovered.
From the start, protecting our seniors has been a Singapore impetus in our COVID-19 strategy. This was why seniors were the first group to be vaccinated after healthcare workers. Tremendous effort including outreach were made to get seniors to be vaccinated pushing their rates from 60% to more than 80%. These efforts continue with the mobile vaccination teams and home vaccination teams.
To continue to provide the best care for those who develop a serious illness, it is important that our healthcare system not be overwhelmed. This is why health protocols have shifted to Home Recovery as the default. To date, there are 15,606 people on Home Recovery.
Hitherto, we have feared the disease since it made its appearance in the world. But now, with vaccination, COVID-19 is no longer a disease to be feared. It is a manageable disease and treatable. Learning to live with COVID-19 also means learning to take personal responsibility, and learning how to deal with it when it strikes.
We must familiarise ourselves with the health protocols to avoid unnecessary confusion.
There are several things we – including the elderly – can do to protect ourselves and reduce the numbers falling seriously ill.
For those who are unvaccinated, please, don’t delay anymore. If you are above 60 and not yet vaccinated, you are at very high risk. COVID-19 is a different disease for those who are unvaccinated.
For the elderly who are already vaccinated, the booster shots will strengthen their immunity. Vaccination has already lowered your risk substantially, but your risk is still much higher than someone younger. A booster shot will reduce your risk further.
If you are a vaccinated senior, the booster shot will reduce your risk of severe infection by more than 10 times. Or as PM Lee explained, the booster shot makes a vaccinated 80-year old look like a much younger vaccinated 50-plus year old!
Let us unite as one people, reduce our social interactions during this wave of transmission to protect ourselves and the seniors among us as we journey together. Let us persevere with the Singapore Spirit till we settle at a new normal where we can resume our activities.