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Transcript of Minister Lawrence Wong’s Opening Remarks at the Multi-Ministry Taskforce Press Conference on 15 November 2021

15 Nov 2021

Good evening. 

Throughout this pandemic, we have had to make constant adjustments to our Covid-19 measures. We understand that it is not always easy for people to keep track of the changes in our measures, and from time to time, it also creates frustration because of the perceived flip-flops in our Covid strategy.

 That is why we are trying very hard to avoid start-stops in our measures and to minimise the need to throttle back, or to tighten. But I hope everyone understands that it is very challenging to do this. And this challenge is not unique to Singapore. Countries everywhere face the same challenge.

Take the example of Europe and see what is happening there right now. A few months ago, Europe relaxed its measures and opened up its economy. Several people then said Singapore should follow suit. Having done so, many European countries today are seeing a sharp spike in cases. And so, several countries in Europe, including Austria, Denmark and Netherlands, have re-imposed restrictions, and even to the extent of reintroducing partial lockdowns. The point is countries everywhere have to deal with these adjustments throughout the pandemic.

For those of us with high vaccination rates, we will like very much to move forward to a situation where we live with the virus and treat it as an endemic disease. But we also have to deal with the reality that the virus comes in rolling waves of infection. And we therefore have to adjust our measures based on these waves in order to protect our healthcare system. And we have to keep on doing that until we reach a stabler equilibrium with the virus. This is the common challenge that countries everywhere are dealing with.

That is why we believe the best strategy for Singapore going forward is to ease our measures in a controlled, careful and calibrated manner. And this applies to our border measures, as well as to measures within our community. You have heard about our approach for the borders just now. Within the community, we had announced some easing last week. We allowed for activities to resume for our students in schools and in our institutions of higher learning. We also announced easing for individuals from the same household to dine together in the restaurant, up to a larger group of five persons. This has started, and as you heard just now, we will be moving next with hawker centres and coffee shops, so long as the hawker centres and coffee shop operators are able to put in place a proper access control and checking system. 

The other way in which we can move forward with easing in a safe manner, in a careful controlled safe manner, is through the new vaccine and test protocol, which we had also announced last week. We are using this to allow team sports to resume, starting with a group of 10 people, so you can play 5 by 5 sports.

And we are also applying this to selected MICE and sporting events. So we will make use of this vaccine and test protocol for several conferences that are taking place this month, including the Milken conference, the Bloomberg conference this week, as well as the Industrial Transformation Asia Pacific conference later this month. We will extend this same protocol for a concert, JJ Lin’s two-day charity concert, happening later in November, as well as a sporting event, and that is the ONE Championship martial arts event. 

Essentially, with the vaccine and test protocol, we will be able to ease some of the safe management measures for these events, and that includes measures like capacity limits and zoning restrictions. Because with vaccine and test, we are not only limiting the participants to vaccinated persons. We are also requiring all of them to be tested beforehand so it provides extra protection and safety. Based on the outcomes of these pilots, if they prove to be successful, we will then be able to extend this same protocol to more events and more settings. And this is another way in which we can resume more activities in a controlled and safe manner.

To conclude, this is the step by step, incremental approach we will be taking in easing our measures. It is not a big bang, as we have said before, it is done in a controlled manner, and each time we make a move, we will monitor the situation for the next few days or one, two weeks, ensure that the overall infection situation is stable before we make the next move. We have done some moves already. We will monitor the situation over the next few days, and early next week, we will give a further update on our possible next steps.

This is how we can, together, continue on our journey of reopening our economy and resuming more activities safely. Thank you.