‘Now is not the time to risk it all’: Singapore returns to lockdown

‘Now is not the time to risk it all’: Singapore returns to lockdown

07/20/2021

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Singapore: Three weeks after it outlined its much-publicised road map for living with COVID-19, Singapore is returning to a partial lockdown for a month.

The south-east Asian city state is recording the highest incidence of new cases of the virus in 11 months with growing clusters around nightlife venues and a major fishing port causing alarm.

Singapore is hoping to have two-thirds of its population vaccinated by National Day on August 9.Credit:Getty

With 182 new infections recorded on Tuesday, the country is reverting to the tight restrictions it had in place during May and June, shutting down dining in restaurants, closing indoor venues such as gyms and limiting gatherings to two people.

The development is a setback to Singapore’s ambition to start dealing with COVID-19 as it would influenza and treating it as an endemic and manageable disease rather than a pandemic.

However, those plans are tied to vaccination and while it has the highest inoculation levels in the region, with 46 per cent of the population of 5.5 million fully vaccinated and 73 per cent having received one shot, the rate is not yet high enough for Singapore to confidently take the next step.

“Some people have also asked why we are tightening measures if we are planning to live with COVID-19 eventually and how this fits into our endemic COVID plan,” said Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, a co-chair of the government’s multi-ministry virus taskforce.

“Our direction has not changed. However, when we outlined our plans to live with COVID-19 we also emphasised that we needed to significantly raise our vaccination and meanwhile we still need to keep infection under control to protect the unvaccinated, especially the elderly.”

That high-risk category is a particular concern given more than 100,000 people in Singapore over the age of 70 are yet to be vaccinated.

The government here had tried to balance its objectives even as new cases were in double figures over the past week, shifting strategy by introducing different dining rules for the vaccinated. People who were fully innoculated were allowed to continue to eat or drink in groups of five, for instance, whereas the number was capped at two for the unvaccinated.

However, the country is now right back on the defensive, with the phase-two enhanced restrictions coming back into force on Thursday and in place until August 18.

Singapore is only weeks away from having two-thirds of people fully vaccinated, a target it is endeavouring to achieve by National Day on August 9.

But Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said “now is really not the time to risk it all”.

“We need to bite this bullet, dial back on social activities, and then use this time to push through the vaccination efforts,” he said.

The latest wave of the virus here sprung from several so-called KTV bars, which are publicly called karaoke outlets but at which sexual services are known to be offered by foreign hostesses.

Singapore is using American-manufactured mRNA vaccines Pfizer and Moderna and has flagged the resumption of quarantine-free travel to and from low-risk nations by the end of the year.

It has 1000 intensive-care unit beds set aside for COVID-19 patients and the health ministry did not want to see more of them being occupied, saying “at the current rate of transmission it is likely that infection cases will rise sharply and many people in the community will catch the virus”.

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