Transcript of Minister Lawrence Wong's Opening Remarks at The Multi-Ministry Taskforce Press Conference on 19 August 202119 Aug 2021
I want to thank everyone in Singapore once again for cooperating with all the measures. By working together, we have been able to stabilise the infection situation, even as we ease measures on the 10th of August. Therefore, we are able now to continue with our next step of easing starting today. That means that up to 50% of those who are able to work from home can return to the office. We will increase event sizes to 1000 attendees, if all of them are fully vaccinated persons. We will increase capacity limits for malls, public venues like museums and libraries, as well as attractions. We will also take careful steps to adjust our health care protocols, as you’ve heard just now, and to reopen our borders starting next month, which Minister Iswaran will elaborate on shortly.
But we should be under no illusion that the road ahead will be an easy one. The path towards being resilient nation is going to be a long and hard slog. Even with high vaccination rates, we are not going to reach herd immunity, where the outbreak just fizzles out. Instead, we must be mentally prepared that cases will rise as we resume more activities and reopen our economy. So, we will have to deal with more clusters. We are in a better position to do so, because of our high vaccine coverage. It means that most of the cases will be mild, and we should be able to keep hospitalisation and ICU cases low.
But we have to remember that there are still unvaccinated persons amongst us. Even if we were to reach vaccination rate of 82%, which will happen in a few weeks’ time, that means 18% of the population are not fully vaccinated. That will include seniors who are very vulnerable. It will also include children who are not eligible for the vaccine. The evidence is clear that the majority of children who are infected will end up with mild illnesses. But majority is not 100%. There will still be a few who end up being seriously ill. So, if you have a large outbreak, hundreds of cases a day or even more than 1000 a day, invariably you will have, amongst that group, children who are seriously ill.
You see this in other countries, like in America now, where the paediatric wards are filled with COVID cases, and this is why we cannot afford to take the risk of opening up in a ‘big bang’ manner. Instead, we are doing this in a controlled, step by step manner. As the saying goes, we are feeling the stones as we cross the river. Each time we make a move, we will monitor the data, we will look at the evidence and ensure that our hospital system is able to cope with the infection situation before we take the next step. And from time to time, if we were to assess that a cluster has broken out, which potentially has the possibility of having widespread transmission in the community or overwhelming our hospital system, we may have to slow down the pace of reopening or even pull back some of the measures.
For the past 19 months, we have been able to manage this pandemic effectively while keeping our hospital system intact and minimizing fatalities. That remains our overall aim - to get to the end of this pandemic with minimum death and damage as a society, even as we seek to resume as much of our normal lives as possible. I'll hand the time now to Minister Iswaran.