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Transcript of Minister Lawrence Wong's Opening Remarks at The Multi-Ministry Taskforce Press Conference on 5 January 2022

05 Jan 2022

Good evening and happy new year. We said in December last year that it was a matter of time before we experience the Omicron wave in Singapore. In fact, we were expecting this surge to happen as early as December, but as it turned out, our measures helped to buy us time and delay the spread of Omicron in our community. And so, we were able to enjoy a period of relative calm over the month of December. But the indicators now suggest that this surge of Omicron infections in the community will be happening soon. We have done everything we can to prepare for this upcoming wave. We have taken the time over the relative period of calm in December to strengthen our healthcare system, and to review and update our healthcare protocols as you heard just now. Our situation in Singapore is different from that in America and many European countries. There, they had moved to liberalise, open up, and remove many, if not all of their restrictions. When the Omicron surge happened in these countries, many of them reinstated restrictions, as you can see over the recent period. In Singapore, we have maintained the whole series of basic and sensible safe management measures (SMMs) – be it wearing of masks, keeping safe distance from one another, or having group sizes maintain at a certain level. We believe these safe management measures are important and appropriate. We will try our very best to ride through the upcoming wave of Omicron infections with our current SMM posture. In other words, we intend to keep to this posture as far as possible. We do not intend to relax further at this time, and we will try not to have to tighten. Our key priority is to protect our healthcare system so if our hospital beds and our ICUs are not overwhelmed, then indeed we will be able to ride through this upcoming wave based on our current SMM settings. We are hopeful that this will indeed be the case, especially given the indications that Omicron cases are not as severe, but we also must be prepared for all contingencies. In the event that the healthcare system comes under tremendous pressure, then as a last resort, we may have no choice but to tighten some of our measures.

All of us also have a part to play in managing and dealing with this upcoming wave of infections, and here, I want to thank everyone in Singapore for doing their part, cooperating with the measures and taking them in their stride. We all know it has been tiring because we have been tackling Covid for two years. There is considerable fatigue and frustration in keeping up with the rules. Despite all that, I think we are all cheered when we see how everyone in Singapore has, for the most part, responded to this crisis with that sense of solidarity, unity and resilience. If we continue to stay disciplined and comply with all the SMMs, then we have a much higher chance of getting through this upcoming wave without having to tighten further. But if we were to let our guard down and take unnecessary risk, then transmission will be amplified, the infection wave will be much larger, we will end up with greater pressure on our healthcare system, and we may have no choice but to tighten.

Take the example of what happened with the New Year's Eve celebration at Clarke Quay. Our investigations showed that this was not an organised event. What happened was that people started gathering together, they got caught up in the moment, and soon we had a crowd of more than 100 people at that location with many flouting the rules - no SMMs, no safe distancing. It was clearly a potential super spreader event. I can understand why people are keen to celebrate the new year, but such actions are not acceptable, especially when we are still in the midst of a pandemic. The enforcement agencies are continuing with their investigations. They are reviewing CCTV footages to identify the culprits. These people will be called in for interviews and enforcement actions will be taken against those who have breached the rules. This happened during the New Year. That is over, but Chinese New Year is coming in a few weeks’ time and the Chinese New Year may be a time when Omicron cases are rising. So, we cannot afford to have more super spreader events taking place during that time and therefore we would like to encourage and urge everyone to continue exercising personal and social responsibility, and to comply and cooperate with all the safe management measures. Let us all do our part to keep our family members, our friends and our loved ones safe even as we usher in the new year. Thank you.