Singapore plans to reopen and "live with Covid" -- Here’s how.

Singapore plans to reopen and “live with Covid” — Here’s how. (Photo by ROSLAN RAHMAN / AFP)

Singapore plans to reopen and “live with Covid” — Here’s how

  • Days after relaxing restrictions, a jump in daily cases linked to karaoke outlets dealt a setback to the city’s reopening efforts.
  • Singapore believes the vaccination progress puts it in a strong position to reopen once the situation is contained.

Just when Singapore’s government pledged that it would ease out of a “Covid-Zero” elimination stance toward a new normal that treats the virus as an endemic problem, the island-nation suffered another avoidable cluster of infections tied to karaoke lounges — putting at bay, the country’s strategy to reopen in phases backed by mass vaccination.

For risk-averse Singapore, the strategy promised to be a significant step, focusing on the number of severe cases rather than total infections, as vaccination rates steadily climbed.  No doubt, the government’s instinct to do whatever it takes to curb this outbreak certainly has merit.  But, it was just a matter of time before Singapore’s commitment to live with Covid-19 would be tested.

Following the Karaoke’s cluster, other clusters have since emerged at a wholesale fish market and local food centers. The number of locally transmitted cases had risen to 88 on July 18 from eight on July 12 — when the ministry identified the cluster — which has infected 173 people and put thousands in quarantine.

“This is a major setback in our journey to recovery and I understand many Singaporeans will be disappointed, and so are we. We must respond to this emerging cluster quickly, especially to protect those who have not yet been vaccinated completely,” said Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong. The health ministry in a statement said that while the new cluster will delay reopening plans, the vaccination progress puts it in a strong position to reopen once the situation is contained.

To reopen, Singapore plans on “living with Covid”

Singapore’s government officials are drawing up a roadmap for the city’s economic future that assumes Covid-19 won’t go away for years. While they haven’t detailed a precise timeline for easing, leaders have said reopening will be tied to immunizations — and floated the idea that vaccinated people will have more allowances to move and travel than those who resist the jabs.

The initial plan was to ease tighter restrictions for fully vaccinated residents in Singapore before August 18, with quarantine-free travel on the cards in the months ahead. The city-state expects 80% of its 5.7 million people to be fully vaccinated by September, allowing for the possibility that residents who have received two doses would not need to serve a 14-day hotel quarantine when they return from overseas. 

The government also indicated that if a review in early August finds that the virus situation is stable, the government could review some restrictions for fully vaccinated individuals, ahead of the original expiry date for the rules on August 18. Admitting that a recently announced “living with Covid-19” plan to treat the virus as endemic had hit speed bumps, finance minister Lawrence Wong said Singapore just wanted to open up “at the correct juncture”.

Since Singapore aims to fully vaccinate two-thirds of its population by around National Day on Aug 9, one may ask how close are they to this target. To date, according to Straits Times, for every 100 people in Singapore, 77 have received their first dose and 64 are fully vaccinated as of Aug 3.

To put it simply, a total of 7,767,442 doses have been administered in Singapore so far. This means they are roughly on track to reach the goal of fully vaccinating two-thirds, or almost 67%, of the population by National Day.

Additionally, as the country achieves vaccination milestones, in time, instead of monitoring daily infection numbers, authorities will focus on the outcomes such as how many fall very sick. Those infected will be allowed to recover at home, so there will be less concern about the healthcare system being stressed.

Testing will be less of a tool for ring-fencing and quarantining people, but will be used more to ensure that events, social activities, and overseas trips can take place safely. The government said people will be able to travel again at least to countries that have also controlled the virus, with testing and vaccinations removing the need for quarantines.