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Transcript of Minister Lawrence Wong's Opening Remarks at The Multi-Ministry Taskforce Press Conference on 14 December 2021

14 Dec 2021

Good afternoon. We all know that a new wave of Omicron infections has emerged in countries everywhere. We have picked up some cases in Singapore, but for now they are relatively contained. But it is a matter of time before we see new clusters of Omicron emerging in our community. It may well happen in the next few weeks or within the coming months. Given the high transmissibility of Omicron and the risk of reinfection, there is a good chance that this Omicron wave will come before us in our midst, and it will potentially be a bigger wave than what we had experienced with the Delta variant. If Omicron results in milder cases, we will be okay. But if Omicron’s severity is similar to what we have seen with the Delta variant, then we will be in a much more challenging position.

That is why our entire public health posture is now geared towards preparing for Omicron. It means that our overall safe management measures have to remain where they are now, so our prevailing measures will remain for the time being. Meanwhile, we will continue to push ahead with vaccinations and boosters because as you heard just now, they are still very effective in preventing severe illness when someone is infected, even with the Omicron variant; and because of the importance of vaccinations and boosters, we will also strengthen our Vaccination Differentiated Safe Management Measures, or our VDS.

From 1st February onwards, we will expand the VDS to more settings. That will include all indoor sports facilities, institutes of higher learning, as well as to leisure guests in our hotels, hostels and serviced apartments. We will also remove the concession for smaller events to proceed without the VDS. Today, events with attendees fewer than 50 people do not need to implement VDS. We will remove that concession from 1st February, which means that all events regardless of event size will need to be VDS, and that means only vaccinated persons can attend these events.

With vaccination requirements, we can also, as you heard from Minister Gan just now, ease the default work-from-home arrangements. From 1st January onwards, we will allow up to 50% of those who can work from home, return to their offices for work purposes, and we will also allow work-related events to take place. But we are now considering to remove the concession for unvaccinated persons to return to the worksite with a negative test. Earlier, when we put in place a workplace vaccination requirement, we had this concession - that if you are unvaccinated, you can still go back to the office, subject to a negative test. We are considering to remove this concession, but it does have implications for employers and workers. That is why we are consulting and discussing with our tripartite partners on this particular move. We will provide more details when the arrangements are finalised.

With these series of measures, we are effectively enhancing and strengthening our VDS measures. That means that across a whole range of different settings, whether it is activities, events, indoor premises, workplaces – there will be more restrictions on unvaccinated persons because unvaccinated persons are at risk. Should they get infected, there will be severe consequences and we have to protect them. For vaccinated persons, they will be permitted to go to these settings or take part in these different activities and events. But as you heard from Minister Ong just now, the definition of a fully vaccinated person will eventually be updated to include the boosters.

I have described some of the additional measures we are putting in place to prepare for the Omicron variant. But at the end of the day, personal responsibility remains crucial. Please stay disciplined, cooperate fully with all the SMMs, and get into the habit of self-testing regularly, especially if you are planning to go for a large-scale event, going out to meet your elderly parents, or even going out to visit a friend in a home where there may potentially be a few people there. I think it is responsible for us to test ourselves beforehand.

I know all of us are hoping to see the pandemic come to an end soon, and in the last few weeks with cases coming down, I think there was a sense of hope that things would improve before too long. Unfortunately, the pandemic is not ending soon. In some ways, this is perhaps the calm before the next storm so we do have to brace ourselves for the Omicron wave. We have dealt with such waves before, and we can do it again. Let us press forward with resolve and solidarity, and get through this coming wave together. Thank you.