(Bloomberg) -- Singapore, faced with the imminent prospect of dealing with 2,000 daily Covid-19 cases from over 400 currently, says it’s sticking to the course of living with Covid-19 for now.
Rather than re-impose strict rules as cases surge, the island nation of about 5.7 million people will start its vaccine booster program from Sept. 14 for vulnerable groups like the elderly and immunocompromised. To ease the strain on hospitals, it will also expand a pilot to let more vaccinated people recover at home, as well as cut local quarantine from 14 days to 10 days from next week.
The moves come as the government seeks to assuage a population that’s been rattled by the rapid rise in cases, and amid divided sentiment over the country’s pledge to cautiously reopen. Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said at a briefing on Friday that as far as possible, the government doesn’t want to reverse course on its pivot to treating the virus as endemic.
“This rapid and exponential rise in daily infections that we are experiencing now is what every country that seeks to live with Covid-19 has to go through at some point,” Ong said, adding Singapore wants to avoid a collapse in the hospital system and high death tolls seen when other countries reopen. “We always wanted to go through it differently from other countries.”
The city-state’s reopening is closely watched as the first among a handful of places that stamped out Covid-19 to now shift towards treating the pathogen as endemic. Unlike mainland China, Hong Kong and New Zealand, where governments maintain a zero-tolerance approach to the virus, Singapore wants to now rely on its vaccination rate -- one of the highest in the world where four out of five people are fully inoculated -- to allow it to normalize like western economies.
‘Reckless’ to Reopen More Now
Singapore identified 450 new local cases on Thursday, including those in the worker dormitories, an increase of more than eight-fold since virus curbs were first eased on Aug. 10. Critical to its reopening plans are severe cases, which have remained stable. As of Thursday, 26 patients required oxygen supplementation and seven were in critical condition, according to government data.
Authorities “do not think it would be prudent to press ahead with any opening measures during this period, especially when we are in the midst of an exponential rise in infection cases,” Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who also co-chairs the virus taskforce, said. “In fact, that would be a reckless thing to do, under current circumstances.”
Ong says the country has plans to make further changes to health protocols if needed and can ramp up more facilities to handle beyond 1,000 cases a day. Wong also added that if the critical care situation remains stable over the next few weeks, the city-state will be able to get back on track with its reopening.
Singapore’s new approach to the virus has encountered headwinds, underscoring the tensions between those who are worried that the surge in cases would get out of hand, and others who are pushing for a quicker reopening. While the government on one hand has started minor easing in the form of easing restrictions for migrant workers and setting up a so-called vaccinated travel lane with Germany, it has also stepped up mandatory testing and banned social gatherings at workplaces.
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