The government does not plan to relax Covid-19 restrictions and intends to let them stay the same for the Chinese New Year period, in order to ride through the upcoming infection wave caused by the Omicron coronavirus strain.
Finance minister Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the national Covid-19 task force, said: “We believe these safe management measures are important and appropriate and so, we will try our very best to ride through the upcoming wave of Omicron infections with our current safe management measure posture.
“In other words, we intend to keep to this posture as far as possible. We don’t intend to relax further at this time and we will try not to tighten.”
He added that the authorities are reviewing closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage of a New Years’ Eve gathering at Clarke Quay and will call up people for interviews and take enforcement action against culprits deemed to have violated Covid-19 safety regulations.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday (January 5), Wong said that the key priority of the government is to ensure that the healthcare system is not overwhelmed during the next wave of coronavirus infections.
This will enable Singapore to ride through the upcoming wave, which could see up to 15,000 infections a day, based on its current infection controls.
“And we are hopeful this will indeed be the case, especially given the indication that Omicron cases are not as severe,” he added.
However, if people were to let their guard down and take unnecessary risk, the transmission rate will be amplified, resulting in a much larger infection wave.
This could create tremendous pressure on the healthcare system and the government may have “no choice but to tighten some of its measures” as a last resort, he said.
Referring to the recent gathering at Clark Quay on New Year’s Eve, Wong said investigations showed that it was not an organised event.
“What happened was that people started gathering together. They got caught up in the moment and soon we had a crowd of more than 100 people in that location with many flouting the rules no safe management measures, no safe distancing. And clearly, it was a potential superspreader event.
“I can understand why people are keen to celebrate the new year, but such actions are not acceptable, especially when we are still in the midst of the pandemic.”
With Chinese New Year coming up at the start of next month, Wong also said that Singapore cannot afford to have more superspreader events taking place during the festive period and urged everyone to exercise personal and social responsibility.
The social gathering group size limit of five people will therefore have to remain in place through the upcoming infection wave, he said.
“When will the wave pass? No one knows. But I can’t imagine the wave passing before Chinese New Year,” he added.
“So very clearly, through this period and through Chinese New Year, the current rules will be maintained.”
No stopping of VTL flights
While border measures had been tightened last month to buy time for the government to understand the Omicron variant better, the focus is no longer on border controls now that the latest coronavirus variant is circulating in the community, said the Covid-19 task force.
Among the measures the government had taken last month was to impose additional protocols such as reduced quota numbers for vaccinated travel lane (VTL) flight passengers and additional Covid-19 tests for such passengers after their arrival.
While Singapore could stop flights coming through the VTL to contain the Omicron variant, this would hurt Singapore’s reputation. Moreover, the variant is emerging in different countries over time and could soon come to regional countries, said Health minister Ong Ye Kung at the same press conference.
“And before you know it, if you take that approach (of stopping VTL flights), you are back to closing down your borders and what happened is that we’ve gone back two years and whatever we’ve achieved, we’ve given it all up,” said Ong, who is a co-chair of the task force.
He said that with vaccinations, people can learn to live with Omicron, which is less severe than the Delta strain.
“So all the more, I think the correct conclusion is that we can live with Omicron,” said Ong.
Gan Kim Yong, who is the minister for Trade and Industry, said that even if Singapore were to stop VTL flights, the Omicron variant could enter the country through non-VTL flights.
Gan, also a co-chair of the task force, reiterated that border control measures imposed last month gave the government time to learn more about the Omicron variant and it is now “more confident to be in a better position to confront the Omicron wave that is oncoming”.
“So I think we have to be very careful and to take a calibrated approach in managing all our countermeasures against Covid-19 including our border measures,” he said.