1. Thank you Chair, for hosting us here on the beautiful island of Bali.
2. Excellencies, I am glad that we are finally able to meet in person again, after a difficult two years spent managing the COVID-19 pandemic.
3. ASEAN member states have managed to weather the storm thanks to our close cooperation. We are now starting on the path to recovery – reopening our borders to travel, gradually resuming normal activities.
4. Our biggest enemy today is not the COVID-19 virus, but complacency, a sense that now that life is back to normal, we can let our guard now. This will be a huge mistake.
5. In the coming few months, we are all likely to see new waves in our countries, either a resurgence of Omicron wave as our societal immunity wanes, or a new variant that drive re-infections. A more dangerous threat is a new virus, which is bound to come as human activities continue to encroach into nature, and humans and animals continue to come into close contact.
6. When that happens, we must be more ready than when we encountered the COVID-19 virus. So while we all enjoy the respite now, let’s also embark on the critical and important tasks ahead. There are a few areas if I may suggest that we can focus on the health front:
a. First, testing and surveillance. We have achieved a breakthrough in the establishment of ACPHEED. This forms the nucleus of a regular monitoring and good surveillance capabilities and response system in our region. This will give us early warning of new COVID-19 variants of concern (VOC) and other emerging infectious diseases.
b. Second, the availability of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics. In particular, we must not let up our current efforts to vaccinate and boost our populations. Their immunity will wane over time, and there is a real risk that current vaccines will be less effective against the next variant of concern. Internally, ASEAN can collaborate better to ensure that vaccine supplies are available for those who need them, such as doing more to facilitate vaccine donations and swaps among us. These are issues we will have to raise with our dialogue partners.
c. Third, ensuring the resilience of travel lanes and supply chains. The pandemic has contributed to an unprecedented rise in shipping costs, which has not subsided. It has also disrupted travel completely. At the Retreat this morning, we discussed the establishment of an ASEAN mutual recognition system for vaccine certificates. From there we can forge similar systems with other regions, such as US, China, India and the EU. Checking for vaccination certifications may well be the norm for travel, just we check our bags and our passports.
7. Singapore looks forward to continuing to work closely with ASEAN member states in our efforts and accelerate our response to be ready for the next COVID-19 wave, or the even next pandemic.
8. Thank you, Chair.