Covid 19 coronavirus: Singapore ‘living with’ virus amid high vaccination rates, despite rise in cases

With 80 per cent of their total population fully vaccinated, life in Singapore could serve as a blueprint for what “living with Covid” might look like.

This comes despite the country recording a high of 216 locally transmitted cases on Friday after large clusters emerged at Changi General Hospital and a popular bus terminal.

Ministry of Health director of medical services Kenneth Mak said the rise in cases was “not unexpected” as the country was not implementing tighter restrictions.

Since August 6, fully vaccinated Singaporeans have been able to eat at restaurants in groups of five. Households are allowed to receive five visitors as well. Unvaccinated individuals who can prove a negative pre-event test are also able to benefit. As of August 19, workplaces have been able to welcome 50 per cent of staff back to the office as well.

Live performances, cinemas, sports events, exhibitions, conferences and weddings have also been given the green light to go ahead with up to 1000 vaccinated attendees and up to 50 unvaccinated attendees.

Travel is back, too. In late August, Singapore announced plans to reopen its borders and allow quarantine-free travel for vaccinated residents between Hong Kong, Macao, Germany and Brunei from September 8.

Singapore now 'Covid-resilient'

A phrase termed by Singapore’s Covid-19 multi-ministry task force co-chair, Lawrence Wong, the senior official said the country’s high vaccination coverage has meant they’re able to move into a new phase of “living with Covid and becoming Covid-resilient”. This meant that even with a slight rise in cases, the government has refrained from introducing new restrictions.

“We would only revert to such a tightened posture as a last resort to prevent our hospital system from being overwhelmed,” he told local news station Channel News Asia.

“Our enforcement officers continue to be on the ground. They are inspecting different establishments, and they will enforce the rules fairly and firmly.”

And for those that break the rules, the punishment is severe.

Quarantine violations carry a penalty of a fine of up to S$10,000 (NZ$10,425), up to six months in jail, or both.

First-time offenders who breach safe distancing measures like not wearing face masks, or breaching safety measures are fined S$300 and S$1000 for their second violation. Repeat offenders may also face prosecution for court and even higher offences if found guilty.

From pandemic to endemic

Like roadmaps out of Covid for other countries, the co-chairs of Singapore’s Covid-19 multi-ministry task force have admitted the virus may never be fully extinguished.

“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,” wrote Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung in June this year.

Instead, their attack strategy is to take necessary precautions so it devolves into an endemic virus disease like, where “the overwhelming majority recover without needing to be hospitalised, and with little or no medication”.

“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,” they wrote.

Now just over two months on from releasing their initial plans, it seems like they’re succeeding.

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