Mr Speaker, on behalf of the Minister for Health, I beg to move that “The Bill be now read a second time.”
2. This Bill proposes a single amendment, to extend the validity of Part 7 of the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 (“CTMA”) for an additional year. There will be no other changes to Part 7 of the CTMA, which will continue to enable targeted public health measures to be implemented and adjusted for the purpose of controlling the incidence and transmission of COVID-19, based on the evolving COVID-19 situation.
Our COVID-19 Response to Omicron
3. In the past few months, we have taken a three-pronged approach in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. First, we have put in place the National Vaccination Programme to ensure that the population is well protected from disease through vaccination.
4. Second, we enhanced our healthcare capacity to handle the surges in cases, and adjusted our healthcare protocols to right-site the care. For example, lower-risk individuals with mild symptoms can be managed by their primary care doctors, while those at higher risk are assessed for management or monitoring at a care facility or hospital.
5. Third, we have continued to implement Safe Management Measures (SMMs), such as limits on group and event sizes, safe distancing and work-from-home arrangements, to ensure community cases do not rise out of control and overwhelm our healthcare capacity.
Current Pandemic Situation and Next Steps
6. In recent days, we have seen the number of COVID-19 cases peaking. There are indications that the wave is starting to subside, and we are optimistic that with everyone’s cooperation in adhering to public health measures, our healthcare system will continue to be able to tend to persons needing care. However, we must bear in mind that the pandemic is not yet over. New variants and new waves remain a possibility – it is quite a natural thing that viruses continue to evolve and mutate over time, as we have seen with previous variants. When such events happen, and whether they affect disease transmission and severity cannot be predicted ahead of time. New variants can break through borders and we have seen this even in countries with strict zero-COVID strategies, resulting in forceful measures having to be implemented.
7. If Singapore’s re-opening is not carefully managed, infections may rise uncontrollably and potentially over-strain or even cause the collapse of our entire healthcare system. Even now, our healthcare workers have been labouring since the pandemic started, for the past two years. So, SMMs are still needed for now, and we will take a gradual and calibrated approach even as we move towards a greater degree of normalcy in our communities, businesses, workplaces, and travels. While we have moved away from lockdowns, which are harmful to the well-being of our people and the economy, we must keep a position where we are nimble and ready to take appropriate measures should the situation worsen or change.
Legal Levers for Nimble Response to COVID-19
8. Part 7 of the CTMA (“Part 7”), which allows the Minister for Health to make regulations for the purpose of prevention and control of COVID-19 incidence or transmission, therefore remains relevant. As the key legal lever behind various SMMs, Part 7 has served us well by allowing for a multi-faceted public health response to COVID-19. It allowed us to weather the Delta and Omicron waves by slowing transmission.
Moving towards COVID-Resilience
9. The Multi-Ministry Taskforce had previously announced plans to simplify and rationalise our COVID-19 SMMs to focus on the five most important and effective measures: Mask-wearing; Group sizes; Capacity limits; Safe Distancing and Workplace arrangements;. Group size and safe distancing, for instance, limit the number of interactions persons would have at any point in time, especially in higher-risk settings. This reduces the overall number of interactions a day and therefore, limits disease spread. Capacity limits are important to prevent overcrowding, which can then lead to superspreading events.
10. In time to come, as case numbers display a sustained and consistent falling trend and the COVID-19 situation abates, we will ease measures along these five key SMMs by adjusting the relevant regulations.
11. A one-year extension of Part 7 of the CTMA will allow us to remain nimble and adaptable to the evolving pandemic situation and face any possible new variants. If COVID-19 ceases to be a threat before the end of this one year, the regulations can be repealed, and Part 7 can be allowed to lapse. However, if more variants and infection waves take hold, the regulations under Part 7 will continue to be important for the protection of public health.
Mr Speaker, I beg to move.