“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.”
That’s the message from Singapore’s Trade Minister Gan Kim Yong, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, published in a recent editorial in the Straits Times.
And they released a plan detailing exactly how to do it.
As part of Singapore’s transition to a ‘new normal’, the country will spend the next three months preparing its people to live with the virus.
It’s going to scrap lockdowns, home isolation and restrictions, and will start treating COVID just like any other endemic disease, like the flu.
There will be no goals of zero transmission.
Travellers will no longer have to endure quarantine, and close contacts of cases will no longer have to isolate.
Eventually, the city state will stop announcing daily case numbers altogether.
Singapore has a coronavirus plan: Mass vaccination
No points for guessing the first and most important step in Singapore’s strategy.
Unlike Australia, which has barely vaccinated 5 per cent of its population, Singapore is on track to administer at least one vaccine dose to two-thirds of its population by early July.
The country’s next milestone will be to have at least two-thirds of its population fully vaccinated with two doses by August 9.
“The evidence is clear: Vaccines are highly effective in reducing the risk of infection as well as transmission,” the three ministers wrote.
“Even if you are infected, vaccines will help prevent severe COVID-19 symptoms.”
The idea is an infected person can recover at home, because with vaccination the symptoms will be mostly mild, and the risk of transmission will be low.
The trio conceded new variants will pose an ongoing threat, and suggested a national plan to roll out regular booster shots, like the annual flu vaccine.
Testing, but not like we know it
Once vaccination is taken care of, the plan for Singapore to defeat coronavirus will include continued regular testing and surveillance.
But this time, the focus will be different.
Testing will mainly centre around borders to identify anyone carrying the virus, especially variants of concern.
“Travellers, especially those vaccinated, can get themselves tested before departure and be exempted from quarantine with a negative test upon arrival,” the ministers wrote.
Inside Singapore, rapid antigen tests that require a swab from the nose will be used to detect the virus at busy locations.
That means Singaporeans may need to get tested before they visit shopping centres, go to work or attend music concerts and sporting matches.
The PCR nasal and swab tests (like we use in Australia) take too long to produce results, the ministers instead, adding faster and less invasive kits like breathalysers were “in the pipeline”.
Sewage testing will also be used to detect COVID in buildings like hostels or in housing estates.
Better COVID drugs
The Singaporean government plans to help scientists produce more effective COVID treatments to boost critically ill patients’ chances of survival.
Those treatments will not only reduce the country’s mortality rate, they will also speed up recovery after illness, the ministers said.
Beating COVID is a team sport
Singapore’s success at living with COVID will depend on how well its citizens adhere to the rules.
That means people washing hands regularly with soap, and working from home when feeling sick without being punished by their bosses.
“History has shown that every pandemic will run its course,” the ministers wrote.
“Science and human ingenuity will eventually prevail over COVID-19. Cohesion and social consciousness will get us there faster. We must all do our part.”