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S’pore won’t exit Phase 3 ‘anytime soon’ despite Covid-19 outbreaks easing in some countries: Puthucheary

SINGAPORE — Singapore will not move out of the third phase of its reopening “anytime soon”, even though Covid-19 outbreaks in some parts of the world have abated in recent weeks.

Crowds at Orchard Road on the first day of Phase Three on Dec 28, 2020.

Crowds at Orchard Road on the first day of Phase Three on Dec 28, 2020.

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  • Dr Janil Puthucheary said Phase Three would be a "new normal" until vaccines are shown to be effective
  • The authorities will look at ways to further reopen the economy and society in a safe manner
  • A successful vaccination exercise depends on whether the population is willing to be inoculated

 

SINGAPORE — Singapore will not move out of the third phase of its reopening  “anytime soon”, even though Covid-19 outbreaks in some parts of the world have abated in recent weeks. 

Phase Three, which began on Dec 28 last year, will instead be a new normal that will last until there is evidence that vaccines are effective in preventing future outbreaks, a substantial proportion of the population is vaccinated, and the rest of the world has the virus under control. 

Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Health, gave this update on Thursday (Feb 25) in Parliament, in response to a question from Mr Yip Hon Meng, Member of Parliament for Yio Chu Kang.

Mr Yip asked about the ministry’s plans to ease the country out of Phase Three and the criteria needed to do so. 

He also asked whether a certain vaccination rate must be achieved before Singapore can explore an exit from Phase Three.

Dr Puthucheary added that since the Phase Three reopening, there has been an increase in Covid-19 outbreaks in many countries and the emergence of more transmissible variants of the coronavirus. Outbreaks in some places have since eased.

Several weeks ago, Singapore also faced an increase in cases with no known origins as well as community clusters.

“Hence, even within Phase Three, we had tightened community safe-management measures, and recalibrated the pace and scale at which activities were able to resume.” 

He emphasised the need to stay vigilant, adding that the authorities will continue finding ways to allow a further reopening of the economy and society in a safe manner. 

“But given the dynamic situation here and around the world, we will need to adjust our safe-management measures from time to time.”

Dr Puthucheary added that while the vaccines approved here have been shown to be effective in protecting people against Covid-19, the Ministry of Health is still awaiting more evidence that they also prevent transmission and is monitoring the effectiveness of the vaccines against new viral variants. 

He said that Singapore has made good progress on its vaccination programme and that the authorities would continue to secure more vaccine supplies.

“We encourage all eligible Singaporeans to take up the vaccines to protect themselves and others around them.” 

Some 250,000 Singapore residents have received the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine so far.

The Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines have been approved for use here. A third vaccine, from China’s Sinovac, is pending an assessment by the Health Sciences Authority. 

Even as the authorities await more information from the Beijing-based pharmaceutical firm, the first batch of the China-made vaccines arrived in Singapore on Tuesday. 

Mr Yip asked whether the plan to vaccinate Singapore residents by the third quarter of the year could be brought forward, should the Sinovac vaccine receive the nod.

Dr Puthucheary said that the vaccination schedule hinges on several factors, including Singapore’s ability to increase the capacity and capabilities of vaccination centres, the willingness of Singaporeans to get vaccinated, and the supply of vaccines.

“If we do have more vaccines, it is possible that we can accelerate our timeline. But, ultimately, this will depend on Singaporeans... coming forward to be vaccinated.” 

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Covid-19 coronavirus Phase 3 Janil Puthucheary Parliament

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