Ministerial Statement by Minister for Finance, Mr Lawrence Wong on Multi-Ministry TaskForce's Fifth Update on Whole-of-Government Responses to Covid 19 at The Parliament, 26 July 202126 Jul 2021
1. Like many countries around the world, our fight against COVID-19 has been difficult, and full of ups and downs.
2. The latest outbreak is a major setback for all of us. Many have been surprised at the size of these new clusters
a. It shows how easy it is for the Delta variant to spread and cause large outbreaks with the potential to overwhelm our hospital system
b. Furthermore, in a mixed population of vaccinated and unvaccinated persons, we are more likely to see large clusters
c. Because vaccinated persons can be infected but experience very mild symptoms. Consequently, they may not realise they are infected, and inadvertently become asymptomatic carriers
d. By the time the cases pop up, days or even weeks would have passed and the infection would have spread to many people
a. We must remember that the proportion of people with two doses and with two weeks after their second shot is still less than 50%.
b. This is when we move into heightened alert.
c. And we are especially worried about our seniors – because there are still over 200,000 seniors aged 60 and above who are not fully vaccinated
d. If they catch the virus, many will likely become severely ill or even succumb to the infection
4. And that is why as you heard from my co-chairs just now, the MTF made the difficult decision to scale back activities and return to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert)
a. This will help to slow down transmission in the community
b. And crucially, this will give us time to push up vaccination rates further and protect our seniors
a. We seek your forbearance and understanding
b. I hope our explanations will help you understand why we had to re-introduce these painful but necessary measures to protect our seniors
a. I will elaborate on this in my statement later this afternoon on the Supplementary Supply Bill
b. And we hope the support measures will help affected workers and businesses tide over the Heightened Alert period
7. As we bring the current outbreak under control, and continue to speed up vaccinations, we will be able to get our re-opening plans back on track
8. The key is is to open up at the correct juncture. Some countries have decided to open-up fully, even though their vaccination rates were still less than ideal
a. For example, The Netherlands lifted all restrictions when 45% of its population was fully vaccinated
i. Cases surged ten-fold to an average of 10,000 a day within two weeks
ii. They have since re-imposed restrictions
b. The UK has about 55% of its population fully vaccinated, although its coverage of its seniors is much higher at above 90%. It lifted all restrictions on 19 July.
i. Cases surged to 50,000 a day, more than two thirds of its peak in the last wave, and are likely to rise further
ii. Hospitalisation and death rates are starting to creep up again, almost entirely amongst unvaccinated individuals
10. While other countries may have come to terms with a certain level of COVID-19 cases and even deaths, this is not the choice we want to make in Singapore.
a. Here, we look out for one another, and we take care of each other.
b. We do not want to see large numbers of COVID-19 patients in intensive care, on oxygen supplementation, let alone succumb to the virus
c. So, we must give our fellow Singaporeans more time
i. Today, many younger Singaporeans are still waiting for their second dose of vaccines
ii. And many of our seniors had been hesitant about getting vaccinated, are starting to step forward. And so we’ll see improvement in our vaccination rates.
12. So what is our approach? Let me explain
13. We will synchronise our re-opening with our vaccination coverage – not just of the overall population, but also amongst our seniors, who are the most vulnerable
14. We will do so in a series of controlled steps. So this is what we can expect in the weeks ahead
15. In early August, at the mid-point of the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) period, we plan to review the current set of measures
a. We will assess the overall infection situation
b. We will also monitor the status of the infected cases, to confirm that the link between infection and hospitalisation has been weakened by the vaccines, like in the chart just now that Minister Ong showed.
c. Importantly, by then, two-thirds of our population would have received two doses, and we would have vaccinated about three-quarters of our seniors aged 70 and above
d. So if the clusters are under control, and hospitalisation rates remain low, we will be able to ease some of the Phase 2 (HA) measures
a. This means that if you want to attend a large event or a religious service involving more than 100 persons, you have to be fully vaccinated
b. Likewise, if you want to go out to dine in a restaurant or work out in a gym, you have to be fully vaccinated
a. We will then be able to ease the restrictions further, including allowing larger groups to get together, especially if they are fully vaccinated
b. We will also begin to re-open our borders, especially for vaccinated persons to travel
c. We will start by establishing travel corridors with countries or regions that have managed COVID-19 well, and where the infection is similarly under control
d. So fully vaccinated persons will then be able to travel without needing to serve the full 14-day Stay Home Notice in a hotel when they return. Depending on the risk level of the country they visit, we will either replace the SHN with a rigorous testing regime, or shorten the SHN to 7 days at home. This will allow vaccinated persons to travel more freely
e. Those who are not vaccinated can still travel, but will be subject to the prevailing SHN requirements
a. As we do so, we must expect cases to rise
b. Partly because there is still ongoing cryptic transmission in our community, which can easily break out into new clusters with increased activity levels
c. Also, as we open our borders for people to travel without SHN, we will see more imported cases, and infected persons slipping through from time to time
d. But at that stage, as you heard just now our main focus will no longer be on daily case numbers
e. Because the vast majority by then would have been vaccinated, and even if they catch the virus, they are much less likely to become very ill
f. Instead, our focus will be on the much smaller number of infected persons who need supplementary oxygen or require intensive care
a. We will ensure that these remain acceptable and stable, before we proceed to the next step
b. But if hospitalisation cases, or worse, severe illnesses were to shoot up, we will have to be prepared to slow down, or even pull back
a. We will find solutions to these variants, especially through booster shots or updated vaccines, which we may need to roll out nationwide
b. But we must be prepared that the new variants can lead to more severe outbreaks, and may well force us to introduce restrictions again from time to time
22. I’ve provided an overview of the roadmap for our transition to a COVID-resilient society, where we learn to live with COVID-19 as part of our daily lives
a. The MTF is still fleshing out the details, and we will share more when ready
b. I assure everyone that we are committed to seeing through these plans
c. The current Heightened Alert is a temporary, limited time out
d. With better vaccination coverage, we will soon be able to resume our plans to re-open progressively, while keeping everyone safe
e. But I underline: Vaccination is key, especially vaccination among our seniors. If many among our seniors are not vaccinated, we will continue to worry about our hospitalisation and ICU cases, as well as fatalities
f. So I make a special plea to all who remain unvaccinated or have not registered to be vaccinated, especially our parents and grandparents: Please come forward. And if you can’t get out of the house, we will send a team to your homes for the vaccination.
23. As part of our controlled and phased re-opening, Safe Management Measures will still remain relevant and important
a. Basic SMMs like keeping a safe distance from others and wearing a mask can help reduce transmission effectively
b. So we must stay disciplined and continue to maintain these practices, even as we transition towards the new normal
c. For example, we would probably not want to do away completely with our mask requirements. We may consider dispensing with masks when outdoors, but it would still make sense to wear them in an indoor enclosed environment where the transmission risks are greater. So this may well be one of the last rules to go in the new normal
a. Several members have asked questions about this, especially how our nightlife establishments are monitored
b. Minister Shanmugam will being sharing more on this , especially on the efforts by MHA and the Police
c. But let me just say that our enforcement agencies are doing everything they can, under very challenging circumstances
d. Since April last year, a multi-agency taskforce comprising various Government agencies including the Police have been coordinating the enforcement of Safe Management and Safe Distancing Measures in public venues, including F&B outlets and massage and spa establishments
e. They have been doing daily enforcement checks. Where laws were flouted, offenders, both operators and individuals, have been taken to task and cases publicised
f. Our SDAs and enforcement officers will continue to do their best, and we should give them our full support
a. We cannot rely on enforcement efforts alone to get us through this pandemic
b. Our society will be much safer if we demonstrate social solidarity, and a collective sense of responsibility to do the right things together
a. Practise good personal hygiene
b. If you are not feeling well, stay home. See a doctor and get yourself tested. Do so even if you are vaccinated. Remember what I said earlier at the start, that vaccinated individuals can get infected, but with very mild symptoms.
c. If you receive an SMS alert, come forward to be tested as soon as possible, and minimise your social interactions until you have a confirmed negative test result
a. The ART self-test kits are widely available at all general retailers
b. The MTF is also distributing these test kits to households
i. We’re starting with those who live near markets where large clusters have been identified
ii. We will progressively scale up and distribute to everyone in Singapore
c. And as you heard just now, we are also rolling out new methods of testing
i. E.g. waste-water surveillance in our estates, and breathalyser tests at our checkpoints
ii. and now we have the breathalyser test in Parliament too before each Parliamentary session
d. Regular testing, and the social consciousness to get ourselves tested regularly, will protect us and keep us safe as we transit to the new normalConclusion
28. We are all disheartened and upset when we hear of people breaking the rules, acting irresponsibly, and causing new clusters to break out. But over the past year and a half, the vast majority of Singaporeans have shown tremendous discipline
29. Many have also been working tirelessly in our fight against COVID-19
a. It’s not just our healthcare workers like our doctors and nurses at our hospitals, clinics and community care facilities
b. It’s also our fellow Singaporeans on the frontlines elsewhere – some in less expected settings, others in less visible places. They include our Safe Distancing Ambassadors, food delivery riders, cleaners and many more
a. Like Mr Lok Chun Kiet, a cleaner with CBM Pte Ltd. He attends to high-risk locations where positive cases have been detected. The cleaning work that he does is not easy under normal circumstances. But now with the exposure to the virus, he and his team now have to put on full PPE and adhere closely to stringent procedures while they work. It’s because of people like Chun Kiet and his team that we are able to quickly deep-clean our infected premises, and minimise the risks of fomite transmission
b. Or Ms Siti Zulaina Bte Md Said, a Senior Medical Technologist with the National Public Health Laboratory at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID). She leads the team to investigate outbreaks and undertake testing surveillance. It’s mission-critical work that requires long hours, stretching into weekends and public holidays. You can imagine the load coming through recently with the surge of cases we’ve had in the community. It’s because of people like Siti and her team that we are able to detect and ring-fence infections early
a. Many more unsung heroes and heroines quietly and steadfastly contributing to our fight against COVID-19.
b. I am sure the entire House would join me in saying to all of them a big heartfelt “Thank You”
33. We are all disappointed by the latest outbreak and the Heightened Alert restrictions. But we will recover and bounce back
34. It’s always darkest before the dawn. So let’s be strong and keep the faith. The dawn is coming. Let’s approach it with renewed strength as one people
35. Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, Sir.