The nation that has said it will “live with Covid-19” stepped up restrictions on coronaviruses just days after easing them.
A sudden spike in cases of the virus in Singapore – infections rose from eight to nearly 200 in 10 days – rocked the government which only on Monday had allowed larger groups of people to congregate.
Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said the Covid-19 situation “has deteriorated sharply”, while Commerce Minister Gan Kim Young added that the implementation of the restrictions “looks like a huge setback” for the city-state.
On Tuesday, 182 new local infections were recorded following an outbreak in a fish market.
Nevertheless, the government still intends to significantly remove social distancing measures in the coming months.
Singapore’s âliving with Covidâ plan
In June, the Southeast Asian nation of nearly six million people unveiled a strategy that would be a “new normal” for “living with Covid”.
“We cannot eradicate it, but we can turn the pandemic into something much less threatening, like the flu or chickenpox, and take our lives back in hand,” wrote Ministers Wong and Gan and the Minister of Health. Health Ong Ye Kung in an editorial in Straits Times.
Ministers said Covid-19 could be “tamed” if not defeated.
A key milestone would be Singapore’s National Day on August 9, when it was hoped that two-thirds of all residents would be fully immunized.
At a later date, there would be a drastic change in how the country has handled the virus.
Essentially, a level of circulation of the virus would be tolerated because of the protection offered by the vaccines.
Large gatherings would be allowed and international borders would gradually reopen.
A big change would be to no longer report the number of daily cases.
âInstead, we’ll focus on the results: how many get very sick, how many in the intensive care unit, how many need to be intubated for oxygen, and so on,â said the trio of politicians who make up the country’s Covid-19. multi-ministerial working group.
The plan is considered one of the most comprehensive developed by a country on managing the coronavirus after vaccination.
But it’s not as extreme as the UK which has removed most social distancing measures entirely in the hope that vaccinations will lead to far fewer deaths and hospitalizations even as the number of cases skyrockets.
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Restrictions relaxed Monday, tightened Thursday
Confidence had risen in Singapore before the ‘living with Covid’ plan began with just a constant undercurrent of 20 cases per day over the past nine months.
So much so that two weeks ago the government announced a reduction in restrictions.
As of Monday of this week, fully bitten locals were allowed to dine in restaurants in groups of five or more, up from two previously.
It is a relaxation that did not last long.
Starting Thursday, no one will be allowed to eat in restaurants, with take-out and delivery the only options, while social gatherings have been reduced from five to two.
Close contact activities such as saunas and nail salons will be closed and singing and even playing wind instruments is prohibited as they require the expulsion of air.
“The Covid situation has worsened significantly,” Wong said in a Facebook post on Tuesday announcing the new restrictions.
“The current trajectory of the infection means that cases will likely increase sharply and many more people will potentially catch the virus.”
Mr Wong said the reduction in activity would give health care providers more time to immunize elderly and vulnerable Singaporeans.
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New peak in the market counters, karaoke rooms
Almost as soon as Singapore announced the removal of certain restrictions, cases of the virus began to increase.
Between July 13 and July 14, infections fell from 26 to 60. The seven-day moving average is now 99.
The majority of these cases relate to the fishing port of Jurong, a large and busy seafood market. It has now been closed.
Authorities have speculated that the virus could have been transported to Singapore on fishing boats from Indonesia, just over the Straits of Malacca, where there was a nationwide outbreak.
A number of cases have also been traced to karaoke lounges.
“Huge setback” but the plan is on track
“I know today’s announcement is a huge setback for many,” Gan added, according to a report in the Straits Times.
âOnce we slow down the new groups and achieve higher vaccination rates, we would be able to continue our journey of reopening. “
And that was a key message from the ministerial trio. That although it is a bump in the road, Singapore still intended to change course in the management of Covid-19.
âWhen we presented our plans to live with Covid-19, we also stressed that we need to dramatically increase our vaccination, and in the meantime, we still need to control the infection to protect the unvaccinated,â Gan said.
The government has indicated it would be comfortable with up to 200 cases per day under the plan.
Data from Britain and Israel, two of the most vaccinated countries in the world, showed that while cases may still increase, deaths are a tenth of what they were before vaccination.
“We are so close, in a few weeks, to a point where two-thirds or more of our population are fully immunized,” Ong said.
âThen we can move much more decisively towards a posture resilient to Covid-19.
âNow is not the time to risk everything. So we need to bite this bullet, go back to social activities, and use this time to move immunization efforts forward. “