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Endemic COVID-19

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament
Ms Foo Mee Har
MP for West Coast GRC

Question No. 1281

To ask the Minister for Health (a) what changes to safe management measures can the public expect when the COVID-19 situation transitions from ‘pandemic’ to ‘endemic’ status, particularly in healthcare, community, business and travel sectors; and (b) what are the criteria that will indicate such a transition.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament
Mr Leong Mun Wai
Non-Constituency MP

Question No. 1285

To ask the Minister for Health how does the Government intend to follow through on its promise to wind down the TraceTogether data collection programme in light of its announcement that the COVID-19 virus is expected to become endemic.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament
Ms He Ting Ru
MP for Sengkang GRC

Question No. 1317

To ask the Minister for Health (a) whether the Multi-Ministry Task Force will make public the full set of metrics and circumstances that will trigger movements between each phase of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions; (b) what are the public health benchmarks for moving between the pandemic control phases; and (c) whether there will be a fixed phase system for restriction levels in the future.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament
Mr Cheng Hsing Yao
Nominated MP

Question No. 1332

To ask the Minister for Health in view of COVID-19 becoming endemic (a) what will be the future threshold for imposing nationwide restrictions such as another Phase 2 (Heightened Alert); and (b) what must Singapore do to mentally prepare for life in this new normal.

Written Answer

I thank the members for their interest in Singapore’s transition to an endemic COVID-19 state.  In this pandemic, every month or week makes a big difference, so in that context we are at a very early stage of our transition. Vaccination is key to the transition, but we have to grapple with many uncertainties, from further virus mutation or sudden outbreaks, and many twists and turns along the way. So it is against this backdrop that I will try to provide answers to the questions from Members.

In the past 18 months, we have managed our approach to COVID-19 by considering factors such as the number of COVID infection cases, the trajectory of the pandemic, whether the infections are linked or unlinked, our testing capacity, and more recently, the proportion of our population that has been vaccinated. Another very important factor is the psychology of our people. Along the way, our polices are continually adjusted to ensure that the number of cases do not rise exponentially, causing our healthcare system to be overwhelmed because that will cause a lot of harm to many patients.

I can understand the desire for a definitive road map, with relaxation of public health measures and travel restrictions pegged to certain transparent benchmarks. We have seen how other countries tried to do this, but they had to delay the lifting of restrictions, or reverse earlier decisions such as removal of the requirement to wear masks in public. So I think a definitive roadmap may not be a realistic approach, given the uncertainties of the pandemic and the evolution of the virus.

But the direction we are heading towards is clear, and we are determined to do our best to make the transition.  A major factor determining the pace and extent of the transition is vaccination.  In line with that, we have identified a couple of milestones, such as getting 50% of our population fully vaccinated sometime in the second half of July, and then two-thirds around National Day. Whether we achieve these milestones depends heavily on the willingness of our people to step forward and get vaccinated. We are planning our transition and public health measures around these milestones. If we are confident enough to be more definitive, we will, and will announce our plans publicly.

Members also asked about when specific measures will be reviewed, including the winding down of TraceTogether at some point. There are several significant transition points. When we imagine endemic COVID-19 and achieving normalcy, these significant changes may not come across our minds. For example, we need to review how we want to treat individuals who are infected with COVID-19, whether they need to be hospitalised or can recover at home. We need to review the relevance of contact tracing and quarantine, and the focus and extent of testing for COVID-19. We will have to explore opportunities to open up quarantine-free travel corridors with countries and regions that are safe. We need to review the timing for winding down TraceTogether, monitoring and reporting the  number of people who falls very sick as opposed to daily infections, and reducing mask wearing requirements.

They are all significant departures from the COVID-19 pandemic practices that we have grown accustomed too. So each change will require a psychological shift. We have to study each move closely, implement them progressively and when appropriate. At all times, the public needs to feel assured, and confident of the steps we are taking. Just like fighting the COVID-pandemic, the transition to endemic COVID-19 will also need to be a whole-of-society effort, of all stakeholders working together, each person doing his or her part, and trusting each other.

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