1. Today, let us once again run through the key components of the pandemic Safe Management Measures (SMMs) at the borders as well as domestically, vaccines and boosters, and finally our healthcare system. I will touch on the first two while DMS will touch on aspects on the healthcare system.
2. Let me first provide an overview of the pandemic situation.
3. Last week, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce announced some very calibrated relaxation of SMMs. These relaxations will lead to more social interactions, and we should expect higher transmission rates and infection cases in the coming days and weeks.
4. However, while this is happening, we are also administering more booster shots, and more people are also recovering safely from infection and becoming resilient to the virus. This counteracts against higher social interactions and infections and we hope that overall, the situation can remain in check.
5. Even if it does not, with stricter Vaccination-Differentiated Safe Management Measures (VDS), we hope that the number of vulnerable unvaccinated individuals being exposed to the virus and then getting infected can be kept low, and our hospitals will not come under pressure.
6. It will also be a matter of time before boosters and safe recovery of individuals will increase our population immunity and then bring the infections back down again. When that happens, the week-on-week ratio will fall below 1 again and this will give us scope to implement further relaxation of restrictions.
7. Hence, ours is not a big bang approach. But a constant suppression of the virus with boosters and safe recovery of people, and then when the observed situation improves, we relax more measures.
8. This will be a careful and deliberate process, applying brakes to our bicycle that is going downhill, and reaching an equilibrium and our destination safely.
9. As for border measures, we continue to monitor the situation in all parts of the world closely. Our key objective is to ensure that travel will not impose a heavy burden on our healthcare system. In the past, border controls were to prevent infections from entering our borders. Now, the objective is more focused on making sure it does not add pressure to our healthcare system. Our assessment has not changed since last week. While infections continue to rise in Europe, overall infection rates in various countries, including in Europe, are comparable to ours.
10. In particular, I want to highlight Netherlands, which is one of our Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) partners. They are experiencing infection rates that are now slightly higher than Singapore’s, and is on an upward trajectory. Netherlands has also imposed new social restrictions.
11. However, we do not think it is necessary to rescind the VTL or reduce the VTL quotas as yet. Imported cases are still a very small fraction of total community cases, and do not significantly affect local transmissions.
12. In addition, there is a quota of only six flights a week from the Netherlands, and most importantly, VTL travellers are all fully vaccinated and tested before departure and upon arrival., Hence it is very unlikely that continuing with the VTL will increase the burden on our hospital and healthcare system.
13. In the meantime, the pandemic situation has stabilised in more countries, and we will be upgrading their risk categories. More countries that are now in Category 2 can be accorded VTL status, and Minister Iswaran will be saying more about this.
14. Let me move on to vaccinations. We have been reporting that 85 percent of our population has been fully vaccinated. I have been asked why our vaccine coverage appears to be lower than the reported figures in some other countries.
15. The reason is because some countries report vaccine coverage against eligible population, whereas we report against the total population.
16. 85 percent of our population is fully vaccinated. If we breakdown the remaining 15 percent that are not vaccinated, it comprises as follows – 1 percent who are not living in Singapore; 9 percent who are children below 12 and not eligible; and the remaining 5 percent who are eligible but chose not to vaccinate.
17. So if we recalculate this based on eligible population, we are around 94 percent vaccinated. It is one of the highest coverage in the world. The Ministry of Health (MOH) will provide both figures from henceforth in our daily press release to give a fuller picture of the progress of our vaccination exercise.
18. Some members of public have also asked MOH about the choice of boosters. Specifically, after taking two shots of the mRNA vaccines, should they now take Pfizer-BioNTech or should they take Moderna?
19. As the Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination (EC19V) has recommended, the two mRNA vaccines can be used interchangeably, regardless whether the first two doses were Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna.
20. MOH has done a study recently on the relative effectiveness of Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna as booster shots in terms of reducing infection risks. We compared two combinations, one combination is P-P-P (three Pfizer-BioNTech shots) versus P-P-M (two Pfizer-BioNTech shots and Moderna as the third dose).
21. There are results for other combinations, such as M-M-M, and M-M-P, but I should caution that the sample sizes for these are not very large, and the statistics may not be as meaningful.
22. But just comparing P-P-P and P-P-M, the results are as follows. Relative to two Pfizer-BioNTech doses, P-P-P further reduces risk of infection by 62 percent. As for P-P-M, the reduction is 72 percent. So both mRNA vaccines work very well as boosters, with P-P-M having a slight edge. Regardless, the impact on the reduction of severity of illness is extremely high for both combinations.
23. There has also been a lot of interest from parents on vaccines for children. MOH has signed a new supply agreement with Pfizer, which includes deliveries of paediatric vaccines. We are in constant contact with Pfizer, who will try to fulfil the deliveries as soon as possible.
24. In the meantime, our own children vaccination trial is making progress. The purpose of this trial is to smoothen operations when we have to do it at scale, because young children are involved. KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) is overseeing it and planning to start recruitment of the first batch of participants. So if your child is between five and 11 years old, you can find out more from KKH’s website and Facebook page about the study as well as the registration details. This will be available by end of this week.
For the Vulnerable
25. Finally, let me talk about the vulnerable segments of our population.
26. The most vulnerable amongst them are unvaccinated seniors. This is why we need VDS, to restrict places where unvaccinated persons can visit, and this is to protect them from exposure to the virus. Of particular concern are places with high footfall, high human traffic, which seniors tend to frequent, and they are hawker centres as well as coffee shops.
27. The National Environment Agency (NEA) and Singapore Food Agency (SFA) have been working on this. Ideally, we should have proper checks on vaccination status before someone enters a hawker centre or coffee shop, and only those fully vaccinated can sit down, remove their masks to eat and talk. However, these are settings where implementation is challenging, because of the layout of the premises.
28. NEA has been engaging hawker associations and Town Councils, and will be able to progressively implement this for our hawker centres. The first group of hawker centres will be able to put in the checking system before end November. For these hawker centres, fully vaccinated individuals from the same household can enter and dine in groups of five, just like restaurants. Other hawker centres will implement the same system with full checks soon after.
29. As for coffeeshops, SFA has been engaging the various operators. They will have the option of doing thorough checks of all their patrons, and if they can do that, members of the same household can sit down and dine in groups of five, just like restaurants. But if the coffeeshops cannot do thorough checks, then the usual groups of two will apply. This system will also be progressively rolled out in the coming weeks.
30. On the other hand, there are also many vaccinated seniors who are cautious and do not want to leave their homes very much, even for much needed exercise which they need. That is why through the People’s Association (PA), we are implementing activities for seniors to stay active.
31. The response has been good so far. Programmes have been introduced at 21 Community Clubs and Integrated Community Hubs across Singapore.
32. As of 10 November, about 1,200 seniors have participated in these activities. They include exercises like Zumba, qigong, brisk walks, ‘live’ performances such as Teochew Opera and Getai, and also movie screenings. A lot of care was taken to conduct these activities for our seniors and to do so safely. In fact, the rules that PA applied are generally more stringent than our standard SMMs, and activities are also very strictly for fully vaccinated seniors.
33. PA plans to progressively resume more senior-centric activities at the remaining CCs if there continues to be good compliance and good response.
34. I should also give a short update on the vaccination of seniors. Today, for seniors aged 60 years and above and unvaccinated, the number has gone down to about 61,000, lower than the number I reported last week. This is really thanks to all the efforts of our mobile and home vaccination teams as well as our vaccination centres, to be able to encourage more seniors to come forward and get themselves vaccinated. We will keep on working at the number to reduce it. Soon it will be less than 60,000.
35. Finally, regular testing is another way to protect ourselves. Our distribution of free kits to households is progressing well. Notwithstanding, many members of public need to purchase additional kits, and they have been asking for supply of more affordable ART test kits.
36. MOH recognises this and has been working with the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) to introduce more good quality and affordable ART self-test kits in Singapore.
37. Last week, HSA authorised a new kit, called the Flowflex ART, under the Pandemic Special Access Route (PSAR) for self-test use. Additionally, two other test kits that have met our quality standards, are also now undergoing registration with HSA. One is called AllTest and the other, INIDICAID.
38. We expect some of these kits to be sold well below $10, and hopefully below $5 for each test. We know these are commercial decisions, but the cost of these kits are considerably lower.
39. Let me now hand the floor to the Director of Medical Services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak.