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Intervention by Minister For Health, Mr Ong Ye Kung on Strengthening WHO Preparedness for and Response to Health Emergencies

1.     When COVID-19 first broke out, the world was ill-prepared. Whether it was testing, surveillance, quarantine, contact tracing, availability of hospital beds, ventilators, we were not prepared. Supply chains disrupted, schools closed, borders closed.


2.     Then came Omicron wave, and I think we were better prepared. All the systems, facilities, processes were better in place. And thankfully, Omicron was a less severe variant compared to Delta.


3.       A next infection wave will inevitably come, it may either be BA.4 and BA.5, or some other new variant totally – hopefully not as severe. The question is, will we be well prepared, when it comes, likely in the winter of this year.


4.        A lot of work has gone in, a lot of initiatives have been rolled out, and Singapore is thankful for all these initiatives. So I don’t want to go into that, I’d rather just touch on one issue, which is an issue of mindset and focus.


5.        I hope that WHO and the world, we will focus on the bottom-line, which is how many people will die, and fall severely ill, instead of the top-line, which is how many people get infected.


6.        The reason why I say that is because the science is pointing us in that direction, because the virus will continue to mutate quite quickly. Variant-specific vaccines will take months, I think six months, to develop, and still, many more months to produce, so we cannot keep up with the mutations.


7.        So the best thing to do is to protect ourselves against severe illness. Furthermore, the expectations of our population is to continue to live life normally, rather than to lock down, and prevent infection. But to focus on the bottom-line is not our natural tendency. It is much easier to measure infection because a positive result is a positive result, while severe illness is subjective. So a conscious effort has to be taken for us to focus on the right metric. Which is the bottom-line – how many people die, how many people fall severely ill. And only then, will we then realise that the foundation of our response is not lock-downs, but vaccinations, and we will put our minds to it to make sure that we have as many of our population in the world vaccinated as possible.


8.        We need to take these steps now to strengthen health emergency preparedness and response, especially in cities and urban settings, as cities are where viruses spread the fastest, and they are also our first line of readiness and response.


9.        On behalf of Member States which co-sponsored the resolution on strengthening emergency preparedness in cities and urban settings, we thank Member States for their support and look forward to the adoption of this resolution.


Thank you.

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