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Friends, ladies and gentlemen

1.             I would like to wish everybody a Happy Chinese New Year. I wish everyone good health and happiness.

2.             Saya ucapkan kepada sekalian, Selamat Tahun Baru Cina.

3.             祝大家新年快乐。今天是初六,祝大家六六大顺。今年兔年,所以祝大家兔年行大运、身体健康、生活美满、阖家平安。

4.             Let me continue the rest of my speech in English. I want to thank everyone here, especially all our healthcare workers in Jurong Spring Nursing Home for everything you have done. Not just in terms of taking care of the aged and our seniors which is very important, but also all that you have done during the COVID-19 pandemic.

5.             You opened over a year and a half ago, and it has been a difficult time. Fortunately, you were able to open at the height of COVID-19 and gave us additional capacity.

6.             COVID-19 has delayed the opening of many of our nursing homes. When nursing homes cannot open, hospital patients who are on long-term care cannot be discharged for their long-term rehabilitation care in nursing homes. As a result, the hospitals get jammed. When hospitals get jammed, the emergency departments also get jammed and there is a bottleneck.

7.             But it just shows how important it is for the entire healthcare ecosystem to be working in sync. When nursing homes were unable to open due to COVID-19, the whole healthcare system was affected. Once the projects catch up, and nursing homes start to open, we start to ease the situation in hospitals. The pandemic has made us realise how important every segment of our ecosystem is.

8.             You are doing very important work. As we are ageing rapidly, nursing homes are a very important part of the ecosystem. The Ministry of Health (MOH) together with the Agency for Integrated Care will do what we can to support our nursing home sector. I know funding is never enough. But we fund what we can afford.

9.             But the important part of the support now comes in the form of manpower. I think most of our healthcare providers will know that manpower is your biggest constraint. We have very good young people – very skilled, very passionate – but there is just not enough of them. We wish we had more. But we only have so many babies and so many people growing up and graduating from the Institute of Technical Education, polytechnics and universities. So we have to complement local manpower with foreign manpower and from different sources. For those who integrate well into our team, we should help them stay in Singapore. This is something MOH is working closely with all our healthcare providers. We have supported this nursing home and will continue to do so.

10.          The good news so far is that the COVID-19 situation is quite stabilised. We have stopped reporting and scrutinising daily figures. But over Chinese New Year, I continued to look at daily figures. Over Chinese New Year, we had quite low numbers, low three-digit numbers that we have not seen for a long time. On 23 January, we had a record low number that we have not seen for some time – 78 cases – two digits but that is because of Chinese New Year.

11.          Of course, we braced ourselves for Wednesday. We always brace ourselves after a long weekend as there was always a big spike with numbers as well as a big spike in visits in the Emergency Departments. As it turned out, it was not too bad. Numbers went up to about 500 on 26 January. The Emergency Departments held their ground, including the busiest hospitals and that includes KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

12.          I know that we no longer scrutinise numbers like that, but over the Chinese New Year, I looked at the numbers and situation closely, and I think things are stable.

13.          Many Singaporeans are also worried that as China opens up, how is its big infection wave going to affect Singapore? I gave a long explanation in Parliament. The number of imported cases from China is very low because the number of flights is few. We are running at 10% capacity pre-COVID-19.

14.          We have also been watching the numbers over the past week. The number of imported cases from mainland China was zero. There were none. Either that or the cases were so mild that they were treated no differently from influenza. The number of travellers from China who got infected and entered our hospitals is what would matter more. From 1 December, we had one case, a returning Singaporean from China.

15.          So all in all, the situation is stable. We look forward to life going back to greater normalcy in the not too distant future.

16.          But in the meantime, very important work lies ahead for MOH and that is to address the issue of ageing. It is probably the biggest social issue that we will face for this generation. Not many people know this but the Minister for Health also has a statutory responsibility as the Minister in charge of ageing. In fact, the first Minister in charge of ageing was Mr Lim Boon Heng and he handed over the portfolio to Mr Gan Kim Yong, and now it is handed over to me.

17.          We have been working hard looking at this issue. There are very major strategic, important long-term moves that we are making. For example, Healthier SG, encouraging ageing-in-place, and raising the retirement age which was effected in July last year by another year.

18.          These are major important structural changes. But I think this is a whole-of-society response to ageing because it affects every aspect of our life. It requires everyone’s hands on deck to go through this ageing process, as many countries have done. They have shown that they can do it and so can we. If anything, we are more coordinated, and have greater collaborations across people, private and public sectors.

19.          In this spirit, we had the blueprint before, and we launched the Action Plan for Ageing several years ago. The Action Plan is due for renewal next Monday, together with a few other Ministers and the Secretary-General of the National Trades Union Congress. We will be launching a Refreshed Action Plan. It comprises many ground-up collaborative initiatives, among the people-public-private sectors. We need everyone to work together so that Singaporeans can age gracefully, purposefully and with dignity. Nursing homes like this play a very important part.

I look forward to continuing to work with everyone as we go through this challenge together. Thank you very much.

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