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Transcript of Minister Lawrence Wong's Opening Remarks at The Multi-Ministry Taskforce Press Conference on 3 September 2021

03 Sep 2021

Good afternoon.

We are continuing to monitor the situation closely. And as you heard from DMS just now, the increase in cases that we are seeing recently is not unexpected because they arise from the resumption of activities that have taken place over the recent weeks. And as we have said before, we are shifting our approach.

Our main focus is not just the daily case numbers, because many of them are vaccinated persons who become infected, and they have mild or even no symptoms. Instead, our focus is on the smaller number of infected persons who need supplementary oxygen or ICU care, and this figure remains stable and under control.

In the past, when we have a situation of such high daily cases, we would have looked to measures like a heightened alert, or even a circuit breaker, to control the infection. But we are in a new phase where we have a high level of vaccine coverage to protect Singaporeans. And we are now moving into a phase of living with Covid and becoming Covid-resilient. And so, we assess that there is no need to impose heightened restrictions. In fact, we would only revert to such a tightened posture as a last resort to prevent our hospital system from being overwhelmed. 

At the same time, we do not intend to make any new opening moves at this juncture because there is a time lag between the onset of infections to serious illness. And so, we want to take some time to monitor the situation. Also, we have recently announced a whole series of pilots, be it vaccinated travel, or allowing our workers in the dormitories to be out in the community. So, we want to allow these pilots to continue over the next few days and weeks before we contemplate further moves.

Meanwhile, we will continue with aggressive testing and contact tracing. So even as cases rise, through testing and tracing, we will be able to slow down the transmission and avoid uncontrollable surges in cases that can easily overwhelm our hospital system.

In particular, we believe that there is scope to do more on the testing front. So, we will redouble our efforts to make regular testing part of the new normal. For certain high-risk settings, the Government has already mandated rostered routine testing so that's already done for people working in these high-risk settings.

But regular testing should not be confined to persons working in such higher risk settings. In fact, we want to strongly encourage everyone, whether you are vaccinated or not, to self-test regularly with antigen rapid test kits, as a matter of social responsibility. That is why the Government decided to distribute these antigen test kits to every household and some of you have already received it. Eventually, everyone should get one; you will get a pack of six kits. 

Beyond the ones that the Government has distributed, you can also purchase these test kits that are widely available at major retailers and e-commerce platforms. We are also actively reviewing new kits for sale and will continue to make such self-test kits more readily accessible. So, we want to encourage everyone to consider testing regularly, especially for example if you are going to participate in a high-risk activity or attend a large-scale event, and you want to ensure that you are free from any virus, test yourself on a regular basis.

To supplement regular self-testing, members of the public can now make an appointment for a test at the 20 Quick Test Centres that we have set up across the island. These centres were set up previously to support businesses and workers who needed a supervised self-swab as part of the mandated requirements, but we will open it up for members of the public if they wish to take a test. And we are studying the setting up of more such testing sites across the island, so that it will be easier for people to get themselves tested regularly.

Employers can play a role too. We would encourage employers to see how they can make regular testing at workplaces a new norm. So, the tripartite partners will be discussing further guidelines to promote more pervasive use of antigen rapid test at workplaces. 

This will again, as I said, go beyond the routine tests or Vaccinate or Regular Test regime which we are implementing. This is moving beyond all of these mandated testing requirements, towards making testing the new norm and making testing more pervasive. We have already reached very high levels of vaccination. We are one of the foremost countries in terms of vaccination. We should now aspire to be a nation of testing, where testing becomes a way of life.

 Finally, let me just say a few words on safe management measures because that's another effective way for all of us to do our part to slow down transmission rates. We have these safe management measures in place for some time; everyone knows what they are. Beyond mask-wearing, safe distancing – these are basic measures which can be very helpful in slowing down transmission – our enforcement officers continue to be on the ground. They are inspecting different establishments, and they will enforce the rules fairly and firmly.

 For example, if they are minor offences, they may issue a warning, they may issue a fine. But if there is a major breach, for example, multiple breaches of the one-metre rule in any particular establishment, or there are attempts to even block the enforcement officers from doing their jobs, then such a major offence will result in immediate closure of the establishment.

 These rules are in place today and our enforcement officers, as well as the safe distancing ambassadors, will continue to be on the ground doing these checks. But we cannot rely only on enforcement – all of us must also do our part as part of our social responsibility to comply with the measures and try our best to prevent large clusters from breaking out. So, with regular testing, with effective safe management measures, we can keep things under control and continue on this journey of reopening safely.

 Thank you.