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Opening Remarks by Minister Gan Kim Yong, Co-Chair of the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on COVID-19, at the COVID-19 Press Conference on 14 December 2020

• With the support and hard work of Singaporeans, we have managed to keep COVID-19 infections under control, and we have now reached a key milestone in our journey. Prime Minister has just announced that we will be entering Phase Three on 28 December.

• I would like to emphasise that this is not a time yet to celebrate but a time for us to take stock of our efforts in managing the outbreak, and prepare ourselves for the next phase of the journey.

Taking stock of our COVID-19 response

• Singapore saw our first imported case on 23 January, and our first cases of local transmission on 4 February. 

• We stood up our contact tracing teams, expanded our testing capacity, introduced safe distancing measures, and tightened border controls.  Despite our best efforts, we saw several clusters of infection, including among migrant workers in the dormitories, and the number of cases rose. At the peak, we saw more than 1,400 new cases  a day and that was in April. 

• We had to mobilise many government agencies including the Singapore Armed Forces and the Home Team, as well as the private sector, and volunteers through the SG Healthcare Corps, to respond quickly to the evolving situation. Second Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng will elaborate further  on our management of migrant workers shortly.

• In many countries around the world, healthcare systems were quickly overwhelmed leading to high mortality rates. We took actions to avoid this situation. We rapidly built community care facilities, so that our hospitals can focus on providing care to those who require emergency and intensive care. We added more than 14,000 beds at community care facilities at the peak.

• Testing is a key strategy in our fight against COVID-19. Our testing capacity has increased from about 2,000 a day in February to more than 50,000 a day now. 

Preparing for COVID-19 vaccination

• Vaccination is another key strategy that will allow us to protect ourselves and our loved ones against COVID-19 and allow our economy to open up and more social activities to resume. 

• Over the past months, the world has witnessed an astonishing speed of progress in vaccine development. But while the timelines for the COVID-19 vaccine trials have been accelerated, they must go through all the requisite clinical trials and safety checks, to ensure that safety is not compromised. They must also meet the World Health Organization’s guidelines as well as international standards. 

• I want to assure all Singaporeans that only vaccines that meet strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness will be used for our population. 

• To secure early access to vaccines, the government began discussions with pharmaceutical companies in May. We have since signed Advance Purchase Agreements with Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech and Sinovac, and are in discussion with a few  more.

• We are also a strong supporter and an active participant of the global COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access (COVAX) Facility. As part of our support for vaccine multilateralism, and the fair and equitable access and allocation of vaccines, Singapore has also pledged to donate US$5 million to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment mechanism, which will help low- and lower-middle income countries to have access to COVID-19 vaccines.

• The Health Sciences Authority has now granted authorisation for Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, for pandemic use in Singapore. 

• In its preliminary recommendations, the government-appointed Expert Committee has also endorsed the use of this vaccine in Singapore in individuals aged 16 years and above, after having reviewed its safety and efficacy data for different population segments in Singapore.

• COVID-19 vaccination will be voluntary. However, we strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated. To ensure the accessibility of the vaccine and encourage take-up, the vaccination will be free for all Singaporeans and long-term residents in Singapore.

• We will progressively vaccinate our population. Our first priority must be for those who are at greater risk and hence most in need of COVID-19 vaccination. These include healthcare workers and COVID-19 frontline workers, and vulnerable groups such as the elderly. This is consistent with the WHO’s recommendations. 

Emerging stronger 

• As we prepare for Phase Three, I want to thank everyone who has contributed – in your own ways, big and small – to keep Singapore safe, and the personal sacrifices you have made for the collective wellbeing of fellow Singaporeans. 

• But even as we embark on Phase Three, the journey is not yet over. The sobering truth is that if we let our guard down now, our painstaking efforts over these months could be quickly eradicated.

• So, let us keep up our fight, and keep one another safe. If we stay united, we will prevail and emerge stronger as a nation. 

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