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Covid-19: S’pore will take 3-6 months to reach ‘new normal’ with trying few months ahead, says PM Lee

SINGAPORE — It will take Singapore at least three to six months to reach a “new normal” where people can resume doing the things they used to do and see crowds again without feeling worried or strange, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Saturday (Oct 9).

Diners at Tampines One on Sept 27, 2021, after tightening of Covid-19 restrictions in Singapore brought down group sizes for dining at eateries from five to two.

Diners at Tampines One on Sept 27, 2021, after tightening of Covid-19 restrictions in Singapore brought down group sizes for dining at eateries from five to two.

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  • It will take Singapore at least three to six months to reach a new normal in the fight against Covid-19, PM Lee Hsien Loong said 
  • But it will be a trying few months ahead for the country as daily cases continue to climb
  • Singapore may have to “tap on the brakes again” if cases rise too quickly to protect the healthcare system
  • Still, Mr Lee said the country is becoming more ready to live with the coronavirus 

 

SINGAPORE — It will take Singapore at least three to six months to reach a “new normal” where people can resume doing the things they used to do and see crowds again without feeling worried or strange, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Saturday (Oct 9).

In this new normal, Singapore can have just light infection controls and ease coronavirus restrictions.

Covid-19 cases will also remain stable, perhaps numbering in the hundreds a day but not growing, and hospitals can get back to business as usual, Mr Lee said in a live national televised address.

“A few countries have reached this state, for example, in Europe, but they have paid for it dearly, losing many lives along the way,” he noted.

‘TRYING’ FEW MONTHS AHEAD

Elaborating on Singapore’s path towards this new normal, Mr Lee said that the next few months would be “trying” for the country.

“I expect daily cases to continue rising for some weeks. Our healthcare system will still be under pressure,” he said.

Singapore is in the midst of a wave of infections fuelled by the highly contagious Delta strain of the coronavirus. 

The number of new daily cases has surpassed 3,000 since Tuesday. 

Mr Lee said that at some point, the surge would level off and cases would start to decline. He is hopeful that this would happen in a month or so, based on the experience of other countries.

“As pressure eases off on the healthcare system, we can relax restrictions, but we will have to do so cautiously, to avoid starting a new wave again.”

Acknowledging the “enormous stress” that healthcare workers are under, Mr Lee said that Singapore must protect its healthcare system and workers at all costs as the country goes through what is perhaps the most difficult phase of its fight against Covid-19.

“But it will not last indefinitely”, he said. “After this surge peaks, things should get better.”

Thanking healthcare workers on the frontlines of the pandemic, Mr Lee gave them the assurance that they would receive the fullest support.

Mr Lee also urged Singaporeans to abide by infection controls, get vaccinated to minimise the odds of severe illness, and test themselves regularly to avoid infecting others and overwhelming the healthcare system.

For those with mild symptoms, he called on them not to rush to hospital emergency departments. 

“Let us reserve hospital capacity for those who need it most — serious Covid-19 cases as well as others with serious illnesses.”

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Mr Lee said that Singapore was in a much better position than a year or even six months ago, and that it was making steady progress towards the new normal, though “sometimes it may not feel like it”. 

Still, he cautioned that there might be future spikes in infections, especially if fresh strains of the virus emerge. 

If cases rise too quickly, the authorities may have to “tap on the brakes again” to protect the healthcare system and its workers, he said. 

In such a scenario, however, Singapore will be better able to cope with future infection waves, as its capacity and processes continue to improve. 

“As more people are exposed to the virus and recover, our immunity levels will increase. Covid-19 will spread less quickly among us,” he added. 

Mr Lee is of the view that the country is getting stronger and more resilient with each passing day, and is more ready to live with the coronavirus.

“Covid-19 has surprised us many times before and may yet surprise us again,” he said. 

“But get there we will, in a careful and safe manner, with no one left behind to fend for themselves and with as few casualties as possible along the way.”

The pandemic, Mr Lee said, has brought out the best in Singaporeans who have stayed united and resolute in the face of difficulties. 

“Let us keep that up and continue working together to complete the journey towards Covid resilience.” 

RESTRICTIONS TO BE REVISED BASED ON RISKS

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the national Covid-19 task force, said that the team had arrived at the three- to six-month timeframe to reach a new normal based on discussion with scientists and academics.

It had also considered the experiences of other countries.

He was responding to questions from the media during a press conference by the task force on Saturday, shortly after Mr Lee’s address to the nation.

Mr Wong noted that many European countries had high vaccination rates. Their populations also had a certain level of natural immunity because a proportion of their people would have caught the coronavirus during large waves of infection last year.

“When these countries have both high vaccination and a sufficiently high level of natural immunity and they started to reopen their economies and societies, some of them did not see a resurgence in cases.

“Instead, cases just stabilised,” Mr Wong said, adding that this is a situation that Singapore might also get to in three to six months.

However, this does not mean that infection controls will remain the same during this period.

“As I highlighted, we are continually reviewing and adjusting our measures in a calibrated way based on risk, and all this with a consideration that we do not want to inadvertently cause a resurgence of cases that might overwhelm our healthcare system.”

Singapore will open up earlier in settings with lower risk such as travel, but the Government will be more careful in opening up in settings with higher risk, he said.

The task force will update the public on possible adjustments to infection controls within the next one to two weeks.

“This will be a continuous process of reviewing the infection situation, our healthcare system and then making these adjustments over the coming weeks.”

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