Editorial: Singapore’s transit to new normal

·3 min read

“THE bad news is that Covid-19 may never go away. The good news is that it is possible to live normally with it in our midst,” thus declared Singapore’s Covid-19 multi-ministry task force composed of Trade Minister Gan Kim Yong, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung in a detailed plan published in the Straits Times.

The body has the same policy role as our Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID). It released its new Covid normal plan that it describes as “ring-fencing” strategy, which means “casting a wide net to isolate contacts if infected persons, and testing tens of thousands every day. The aim, the multi-ministry agency said, is “to minimize the risk of large clusters forming.”

The gist is that it will from hereon treat Covid as any other endemic disease. “Endemic” means Covid will now be seen as your regular flu.

“We can work towards a similar outcome for Covid-19. We can’t eradicate it, but we can turn the pandemic into something much less threatening, like influenza, hand, foot and mouth disease, or chickenpox, and get on with our lives,” the agency said.

Thus, policy shifts from aiming for zero transmission to seeing to it that the virus doesn’t spread in large pools.

The three-month transition, the agency said, will prepare its citizens to live with the virus. The new policy scraps altogether the usual strategies of lockdowns, home isolation and restrictions. It will altogether drop quarantine for travelers, contact tracing and isolation of close contacts. Eventually, the agency said, it will have to stop posting bulletins of daily infections.

The Singapore plan sounds like an excellent proposition even as it raises the eyebrows of health experts in other parts of the world. True, there will be viral mutations of varying severity, policies might as well gamify the fight to our advantage by looking at the fight as some sort of a team sport.

Well and good. However, key to Singapore’s confidence in its new strategy is this: “The exit path in this pandemic is paved with vaccinations.” The country is well on track in its vaccination rollout. This month, two-thirds of its populace already received its first dose. By Aug. 9, 2021, the officials said, two-thirds of its population shall already be fully vaccinated.

With a large majority of the population already safe from severe symptoms after completing the jab set, this will relieve its health care system from the constant threat of admission surges. The Singapore officials cite the case in Israel, most succesfull in its vaccination rollout, where Covid-19 hospitalization rate among fully vaccinated individuals is .3 per 100,000 persons daily, while mortality rate is .1 per 100,000 persons. Those figures, the officials said, are comparable to the rate of hospitalization of those caused by seasonal influenza in the US.

“Vaccination was key. The road map out of the current measures couldn’t begin until more people had been jabbed,” the Singapore officials said.

And yet, even as the state details its transition program, it continues to encourage its citizens to take responsibility. “If all of us practice good personal hygiene, we are less likely to be infected. If all of us are considerate to one another, staying away from crowds when we feel unwell, we will reduce transmission. If all of us shoulder the burden together -- workers keeping their colleagues safe by staying at home when ill, and employers not faulting them -- our society will be so much safer,” the agency said.

Singapore’s transition into its new normal is apparently well earned. We can’t cheat our way through shortcuts out of this pandemic. We have to push for vaccinations -- that’s the key in the Singapore model.

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