A country that has been one of the world’s most successful at combating Covid-19 has announced it will soon fundamentally change how it manages the pandemic.
The city state of Singapore has stated covid will be treated like other endemic diseases such as flu.
There will be no goals of zero transmission. Quarantine will be dumped for travellers and close contact of cases will not have to isolate. It also plans to no longer announce daily case numbers.
But you may need to take tests to head to the shops or go to work.
Senior Singaporean ministers have said it is the “new normal” of “living with covid”.
“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 Singapore’s trade Minister Gan Kim Yong, finance minister Lawrence Wong and health minister Ong Ye Kung said in an editorial in the Straits Times this week.
“It means that the virus will continue to mutate, and thereby survive in our community.”
Singapore never got to zero, now doesn’t want to
Like most countries, Singapore had an initial peak of cases last year, topping out at 600 cases a day in mid-April. Following a smaller wave in August, Covid-19 hasn’t flared up since.
However, the nation of 5.7 million, slightly larger than Sydney, has had a steady undercurrent of around 20-30 cases every day. The nation has recorded 35 deaths in total.
Singapore has strict border controls in place with most countries including tests on arrival, hotel quarantine and stay at home orders.
It’s not dissimilar to Australia, but Singapore varies the demands on travellers depending on the risk in the location where they last visited.
But all that would be eventually done away with under the plan put out by ministers Kung, Yong and Wong who make up Singapore’s Covid-19 multi-ministry task force.
“Every year, many people catch the flu. The overwhelming majority recover without needing to be hospitalised, and with little or no medication. But a minority, especially the elderly and those with comorbidities, can get very ill, and some succumb.
“We can’t eradicate it, but we can turn the pandemic into something much less threatening, like influenza or chickenpox, and get on with our lives,” the trio said.
Vaccination first, then reduce restrictions
Vaccination was key. The road map out of the current measures couldn’t begin until more people had been jabbed.
Singapore is set to have given two-thirds of its residents at least one jab within weeks and to have two thirds fully vaccinated by early August.
Singapore has recorded some fully vaccinated locals getting Covid-19, but none of them have had serious symptoms.
The ministers state it’s likely that would continue and booster shots may be necessary.
Testing would also have to be easier and quicker. Self-administered tests, such as breathalysers, should replace the uncomfortable ear bud down the back of the throat method.
Singapore’s ‘new covid normal’
The ministers said Covid-19 could be “tamed” if not vanquished.
They laid out what they called “a new normal”.
“In time, the airport, seaport, office buildings, malls, hospitals and educational institutions can use these kits to screen staff and visitors.”
People with covid would recover at home because symptoms will mostly be mild and close contacts would be vaccinated.
Because most cases will be less of an issue, the need for contact tracing and quarantining will be low.
A big change would be to no longer report daily case numbers.
“Instead of monitoring Covid-19 infection numbers every day, we will focus on the outcomes: how many fall very sick, how many in the intensive care unit, how many need to be intubated for oxygen, and so on.
“This is like how we now monitor influenza.”
The ministers wrote in the Straits Times that this would be a way for Singapore to navigate its way out of Covid-19, resume major events and travel internationally.
The road map is in contrast to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has not detailed how international travel might return.
On Channel 7’ Sunrise he said opening borders posed a huge risk.
“Once you let it in, you can’t get it out. If we take the other steps that others are suggesting, we have to be comfortable with 5000 cases a day. I don’t think Australians would be happy.”
Although he did add that Australia was watching highly vaccinated countries closely.
“The key figure going forward will be how many people are suffering serious illness, and that’s what we are watching closely in the United Kingdom.”
The Singaporean ministers said the country was by no means at a stage where the post-covid plan could commence. For the time being, current restrictions would have to remain in place.
Indeed, the country has just toughened entry to people from New South Wales due to the current Sydney outbreak.
But “a road map to transit to a new normal” was coming together.
“History has shown that every pandemic will run its course”.