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Transcript of DPM and Finance Minister Lawrence Wong's Opening Remarks at The Multi-Ministry Taskforce Press Conference on 24 August 2022

24 Aug 2022

It has been a while since our last MTF press conference, so it is good to see all of you here in person too. I want to assure you that the MTF is still at work, and we are continuing to closely monitor the pandemic situation. In fact, we were quite concerned about the recent BA4 and BA5 wave. At that time, we had seen that our hospitals and clinics were quite busy. Fortunately, they were not overwhelmed, so we were able to ride through the wave without having to tighten our measures.

Today, we are in a much better position than before. The MTF and I would like to put on record our thanks to everyone in Singapore for doing your part and helping us get through the last two and a half years together. As we become more COVID-resilient, we are now able to take further steps to adjust our measures.

First, we will remove mask-wearing in indoor settings from 29 August, except in two settings – in healthcare settings, and that includes residential care homes and ambulances; and in public transport, which means the MRT and LRT systems, public buses, and indoor transport facilities such as MRT platforms.

You may ask why specifically these two settings. The reason is that we have identified essential areas where essential services are being carried out in enclosed and crowded spaces which are frequently used by vulnerable persons. Based on these considerations, we have identified health care and public transport.

Second, on vaccination and Vaccination-Differentiated Safe Management Measures (VDS). Currently, VDS checks are required only for large events beyond 500 persons or for dining-in at F&B establishments. You still need to be fully vaccinated, but businesses will no longer check because the responsibility is placed on the individual and we do random spot checks. For now, we are retaining this approach, so there is no change to this as vaccinations are still the best way to protect ourselves against severe disease from COVID-19.

But we are reviewing our vaccination policy to transit to a system where we keep our vaccination up to date. Basically, our current vaccination policies stipulate that you need to get your first booster no later than 270 days after the primary series. We have not defined this for the second booster, and for that matter, there may well be future boosters. We need a more enduring system to define vaccinations that are up to date on an ongoing basis, and we are studying what that system should be and what that definition should be. When we transit to this new system, we will also at that stage also review and update our VDS requirements. This is being studied and we will provide further updates when we are ready.

Third, on border measures, we have for the most part open up travel for fully vaccinated persons but there are still some measures in place for non-fully vaccinated travellers. Given the current situation globally as well as within Singapore, we think we can make some easings on this front and Minister Gan will elaborate on that later. Aside from the SMMs, vaccinations and boosters remain a critical part of our strategies. The EC19V has met and has recommended boosters to a wider group of people. Minister Ong will share more about this later as well.

The further easing of SMMs and border measures is a significant milestone for us in our journey towards living with COVID. While many SMMs are no longer mandated, we urge everyone to continue to exercise personal and social responsibility. For example, elderly and immuno-compromised persons should continue to wear masks in crowded indoor settings to reduce their risk of catching, not just COVID but any respiratory infections. Individuals who are unwell should continue to stay at home and avoid going out. If you feel unwell, you should go home immediately and see a doctor. For those who are close contacts of an infected case, they should follow Protocol 3, and if you have forgotten what Protocol 3 is, it means take an ART self-test and make sure you test negative before going out over the next five days.

Overall, while the situation is much better today, we also must be mentally prepared for any sudden change because we do not know how the virus will mutate and what the next variant will be like. It may be milder and we certainly hope it is, but it could also be more aggressive and dangerous. That is why we are not standing down the MTF. We are continuing to monitor closely and we have drawer plans in place for various contingencies, including scaling up our healthcare capacity, as well as stacking up vaccination operations if and when the need arises. We also have multiple lines of defence, as all of you are aware, which we can activate if needed. Border measures as well as our SMM 1 to 5 – all of which can buy us time should there be a wave that is dangerous for us as we need to buy us time to get more capacity in place or for that matter to give everyone a second booster shot. I hope we will not need to invoke these measures again but we know from past experience that this is a tricky virus and we have to expect the unexpected. Let us all be prepared, and maintain our solidarity, trust and unity to get through this pandemic together as one united people.