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Transcript of Minister Lawrence Wong's Opening Remarks at The Multi-Ministry Taskforce Press Conference on 30 November 2021

01 Dec 2021

Good afternoon. The situation remains highly fluid, as you heard from my fellow co-chairs and DMS just now, and there are still a lot of unknowns. It is a stark reminder that the pandemic is far from over. In dealing with such a situation, we know that border measures are our first line of defence against imported risks. But we also know from experience over the past two years of the pandemic, that we cannot rely solely on border measures to stop the virus or to stop this new strain from coming in to Singapore. Take the example of the Delta variant - even the countries with the strictest of border regimes like China and New Zealand for example, have experienced the Delta variants in their countries, and so it will be for this new variant. 

The bottom line or the more important point is to recognise that border measures are really part of an overall system of defence. We require multi-layers of defence, having strong border measures will help to buy us time, but it will not keep the virus out. It buys us time and we must then use this time wisely to build up and strengthen other layers of defences. What are these other layers? Well, you heard from Minister Ong and DMS just now. We continue to ramp up vaccines and boosters. We continue with all that we have been doing on testing and tracing. These remain very critical – the ability to test, do contact tracing and go in quickly to ringfence any cluster that may be linked to this new Omicron variant. Thirdly, all the basic measures around safe management that we have put in place - these remain vital. In many other countries, especially in Europe, they have now only started to reinstate some of these basic measures like wearing of masks, social distancing, or even controls in restaurants and F&B outlets. We have maintained these basic safe management measures throughout and we should continue to maintain such a posture. 

So, going back to border measures, there's a range of options we can consider. On one end of the spectrum, we can continue with the status quo - leave things unchanged, just continue with the status quo - on the other end of the spectrum, we can shut the borders and stop travel altogether. Of course, at this juncture, we should not under or overreact or rush to any of these extremes. In fact, there are many options in the middle of the spectrum so we should judge the situation carefully and develop our responses based on data and science as we have been doing throughout this pandemic. As a first step, what we will do is to strengthen our border measures through enhanced testing and we will do so in several ways. 

First, we will require all travellers to have undergone a pre departure test within two days of their departure for Singapore. This is already done for most travellers, but there are some countries, the Cat 1 countries where pre-departure test is not required. From henceforth, we will require pre-departure test for all travellers within two days of their departure for Singapore. Second, all travellers entering Singapore, including travellers from all the different lanes, will have to undertake an on-arrival test at the airport. Again, some travellers already do that, but not all, and so from henceforth we will require all travellers coming into the airport to do a PCR on-arrival test. Third, for the travellers on the Vaccinated Travel Lane, when they come into Singapore after the on-arrival test, we will require them to do two additional tests. This will be supervised Antigen Rapid Test done on day 3 and day 7 of their arrival. These enhancements to the testing regime will take effect from 2 December, 2359h. Fourth, we will do a one-off surveillance exercise for travellers who arrived between 12 and 27 November. In other words, travellers who had come in earlier, and they had travelled to the countries or regions that were affected by Omicron, in the 14 days before their arrival in Singapore, we will go back to them and do a one-time surveillance test of all of these travellers, the travellers have been notified of their scheduled testing time and venue, and we thank all of them in advance for their cooperation and understanding. Fifth and finally, we will continue and, in fact, step up the rostered routine tests that we do for all our border frontline workers, and these are the staff and employees who are working in the airports or the other sea and land checkpoints or anyone working in the borders that may come into contact with travellers. We already have a rostered routine test regime in place. We will step that up and we will have the staff undergo a weekly test using PCR. These are the initial moves we are making to strengthen our border measures. At the same time, we will continue to monitor the situation overseas very closely, we will continue to gain a better understanding of this new variant and we may very well take additional steps on our border measures as the situation becomes clearer in the coming days. 

To conclude, throughout this pandemic, I think we have had to be nimble and quick in adjusting our measures to cater to a dynamic and constantly evolving situation. We are entering the third year of the pandemic. I can fully appreciate that there will be a certain level of weariness or fatigue, exhaustion that people feel hearing the news of this new variant. But I hope we can also draw strength from our responses throughout the past two years, how we have kept faith with one another and supported each other throughout this journey. If we continue with that approach, we can stay united, rally together and all do our part to get through this pandemic as one people. Thank you.