Singapore planning to further ease COVID-19 restrictions, simplify rules

WION Web Team
Singapore Updated: Mar 13, 2022, 06:21 PM(IST)

People wearing face masks cross a road, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Omicron wave in Singapore Photograph:( Reuters )

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Of the nearly 294,000 cases in Singapore over the last 28 days, 99.7 per cent had mild or no symptoms

Singapore's Health Minister Ong Ye Kung has said that the island is planning to further ease COVID-19 restrictions.

He said this “is not an easing of measures, but a streamlining of the many rules that have accumulated over two years, which made the rules difficult to understand.”

“So, there will be a few steps and exactly when along the way do we ease on alcohol consumption rule, live performance, singing and nightlife activities, that’s something we are studying very carefully and as I said when we are ready, we will provide further details,” he added.

Measures will only take place “when conditions are right and the healthcare workload has eased, which we expect in the coming weeks,” the health ministry said in a statement.

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Singapore will streamline border measures for all travellers, and remove an entry approval requirement for eligible residents who are long-term pass holders, the ministry said, making it easier for expatriates to travel.

When Singapore embarked upon its strategy of living with COVID-19, backed by one of the world’s leading vaccine programs, the wealthy city-state saw a spike in its rate of infections, leading many to question whether the time was right.

But with the numbers now dropping as rapidly as they rose, there’s cautious optimism that the widely watched plan has helped Singapore turn the corner in the pandemic, even with the discovery of the new worrisome omicron variant, and provide a better understanding of what is effective, and what isn’t.

94 per cent of its eligible population is fully vaccinated and another 26 per cent already inoculated with booster shots.

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Singapore was able to succeed in getting so many people vaccinated by ensuring there were few barriers to getting the shot, increasing difficulties for the unvaccinated, such as prohibiting them from dining in restaurants or going to malls, and a general confidence in the government and its approach, said Alex Cook, a specialist on infectious disease modelling and statistics at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

“Perhaps the main lesson to draw from Singapore is to make it easy go get vaccinated, and hard not to be,” he said.

Singapore saw daily cases top 10,000 in the past month and hit a record of about 26,000 on February 22, led to delays in the implementation of some easing measures.

"While the number of patients needing oxygen supplementation and intensive care unit (ICU) care is not high, there is a surge in demand for hospital beds, mostly for patients with underlying chronic illnesses to recover," the health ministry said in a statement.

It reiterated that people with mild or no symptoms who had tested positive should consider self-recovery at home to reduce the pressure on healthcare workers.

Early in the pandemic, the major Southeast Asian business and trade hub kept the spread of coronavirus cases to the single or low double-digits for nearly a year by imposing a hard-line “circuit-breaker” lockdown.

With its vaccination rollout in full swing, an aggressive testing and tracking regimen, and strict health and safety guidelines, the nation of 5.5 million felt confident as it embarked last August upon what it called a “transition journey to a COVID-19 resilient nation.”

It was part of a decision to start treating COVID-19 as an endemic disease, conceding that in the long-term reducing cases to zero would not be possible and that it was time to slowly allow people and businesses again to resume their normal lives.

In addition to a widely vaccinated population, Singapore calculated that its testing was comprehensive enough that it would be able to identify and isolate new outbreak clusters rapidly, and that its health care system had the capacity to deal with any more serious cases.

(With inputs from agencies)

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