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Transcript of Minister Lawrence Wong's Opening Remarks at The Multi-Ministry Taskforce Press Conference on 10 September 2021

10 Sep 2021

Good afternoon. Much has been said just now by my colleagues and DMS, so let me give a quick summary of where we stand today. We have a plan to reopen amidst the virus and we knew all along, and we have said so before, that once we reopen and resume activities, we will experience a new wave of infection. All countries that opened up have had to deal with such waves. For us, it is happening faster than we had expected. It's also the first time since our opening that we are facing such a new exponential wave of infection in our community. Very soon we will reach 1,000 new cases a day, and in a few weeks’ time, we will probably get to 2,000 new cases a day. That's why we have to take a more cautious approach in the current situation and make sure that we adjust quickly to this fluid and rapidly changing infection situation.

The difference between now and what we had, say, a few months ago or even last year, is that we have a much higher vaccination rate and so better protection from the vaccines. That's why we’ve said before that our focus is not just on the daily infection numbers, but the number of serious cases needing oxygen and ICU care. Indeed, that's our key focus. Our ICU numbers are still low now as you heard just now. But we must not be complacent and assume this will automatically remain so over the coming weeks, because severe illness typically comes two weeks or more after one catches the virus.

So we have to monitor the situation closely and also to see and learn from the experiences in other countries. There are countries that are highly vaccinated, which have gone through a wave of infection and they have kept their hospital system intact and avoided a high death toll in their society. On the other hand, there are also countries with a high vaccination rate, experiencing a wave of infection. And despite their best preparations, we have seen these infection cases follow through to more people needing oxygen and ICU, their hospital systems get overwhelmed and eventually they see more people succumbing to the disease. Take Israel as an example. It's a highly vaccinated population. It's now going through a wave of infection, cases have gone up sharply, and the ICU cases have also risen. And over the past week, they have seen an average of 25 deaths a day. That is why we are asking everyone to exercise restraint during this period, scale back on non-essential social activities, get tested regularly, and let’s all do our part to try and slow down the spread of the virus.

I should add that throughout this pandemic, our actions have been guided by data and evidence, and based on the advice of our medical and scientific experts. The collective view of the MTF and our experts is this: First, we do not think there is a need to return to the heightened alert and circuit breaker at this juncture. As I have said on Monday, these are last-resort measures, and we should not rule them out entirely. In the event that we see the risk of our hospital system being overwhelmed, we may have to introduce them. But at this point, we do not see a need to return to the heightened alert or to the circuit breaker. Second, we also do not think it would be prudent to press ahead with any opening measures during this period, especially when we are in the midst of an exponential rise in infection cases. In fact, that will be a reckless thing to do under current circumstances. Third, our position is we believe it is more prudent to take a pause now, do our best to slow down the spread where we can, and then monitor closely what happens to our ICU situation over the next two to four weeks. 

Meanwhile, we continue to take several important measures. First, as you heard just now, adjusting our healthcare protocols to cope with the surge in cases to ensure we have sufficient capacity in our hospitals to take care of all the serious cases that may emerge in the coming days and weeks. Second, for all of us to do our part to exercise restraint and moderation, and scale back on our non-essential social activities especially for our seniors and for those who are living with seniors. Third, step up regular, widespread testing with distributed test kits to every household. We are in the midst of distributing them, and we will be starting that process for employers as well. So let's all get into the habit of being tested regularly. It's a very effective way of detecting cases quickly so that we can slow down the spread of transmission in the community. And finally, we will continue with all our efforts to roll out vaccinations to those who are still unvaccinated, especially our seniors, and we will proceed with our booster programme for those (aged) 60 and above quite soon.

We know that this is an uncertain and difficult time for all of us. But as we have done over the past 20 months tackling and fighting this virus, we will be able to overcome this wave of infection by continuing to work together and stand together. Thank you.