SINGAPORE — Singapore is tracking developments surrounding the newly emerged Omicron COVID-19 variant "very closely" and could be forced to dial back its reopening plans, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (28 November).
"We're tracking this very closely. We're not sure yet but we may well be forced to take a few steps back before we can take more steps forward," he said during his speech at the People's Action Party (PAP) conference.
Lee, who is secretary-general of the country's ruling political party, added that he remains confident Singapore will find its way towards "living with the virus" and safely resuming regular activities. "We are making all this effort because we want to get there safely with as few casualties along the way as possible," he said.
Singapore began easing measures on dining out, social gatherings and house visiting last week. This came after nearly two months of restrictions, dubbed the "Stabilisation Phase", that were implemented to handle the sharp rise in COVID-19 community cases.
In his speech, Lee also emphasised how national crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic are a "test of trust". "One big reason our measures against COVID-19 are working is because Singaporeans trust the PAP government. They trust that the PAP government will keep everyone safe and keep Singapore in working order," he said.
As a result of this trust, Singaporeans have also "patiently complied" with "burdensome" safe management measures imposed and understand that changes in plans are hard to avoid given the rapidly changing situation, said Lee.
"I'm very glad that everyone came together, accepted the inconveniences and hardships and made our measures work. Thank you everybody," he added.
On Friday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) designated the Omicron variant – also known as B.1.1.529 – as being one "of concern". WHO said it received its first report of the variant from South Africa on 24 November, with the first confirmed infection having been detected in a sample obtained on 9 November.
Several countries have since imposed entry restrictions on travellers from countries in Southern Africa. Since Friday, Singapore barred entry to long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with a recent travel history to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe.