2021-10-08 07:15:33 Singapore Struggles to Reopen After Vaccinations
Singapore Struggles to Reopen After Vaccinations
The country’s experience has become a sobering case study for other nations pursuing reopening strategies without first dealing with large pandemic outbreaks. There was a sense of disbelief among Singaporeans who believed the city-state would reopen once the vaccination rate reached a certain level, as well as lingering questions about what it would take to reopen if vaccines were insufficient.
“In a way, we’re a victim of our own success,” Dr. Paul Tambyah, an infectious diseases specialist at National University Hospital, said. “So we want to maintain our position at the top of the class, which is extremely difficult to do.”
Singapore’s cautious, some would argue overly cautious, approach to reopening contrasts with that of the United States and Europe, where vaccinated people are already congregating at concerts, festivals, and other large events. However, unlike Singapore, both of those cities had to deal with significant outbreaks early in the pandemic.
The lesson for “Covid-naive societies” like Singapore, New Zealand, and Australia, according to Singapore’s finance minister and chair of the country’s Covid-19 task force, is to be prepared for large waves of infections “regardless of vaccine coverage.”
“More social interactions will occur once you open up,” he said. “And, because the Delta variant is inherently highly transmissible, you will see large clusters emerge.”
The vaccines have kept the majority of the population out of the hospital, with 98.4 percent of cases displaying mild or no symptoms. The deaths have mostly occurred in seniors, usually with comorbidities, and account for 0.2 percent of all cases in the last 28 days. However, Mr. Wong claims that the shots are ineffective against infection, particularly when compared to the Delta variant.
“In Singapore, we believe that you cannot rely solely on vaccines during this interim phase,” he said. “And that is why we do not intend to reopen in a big bang and simply declare freedom.”
On Monday, two weeks after they were implemented, the country will review its restrictions and make adjustments based on the situation in the community. People will continue to wear face masks in Mr. Wong’s vision of how the pandemic will play out in Singapore. It is unlikely that travel will be completely free. Social distancing will persist, possibly until 2024.
He emphasized that Singapore was still on the path to living with Covid, and he acknowledged that any tightening, no matter how minor, would be met with anger and frustration because people are eager to move on. “But we have to adjust based on reality, on the situation we’re in,” he said.
Last month, officials scrambled to set up community treatment facilities outfitted with oxygen tanks, and those with mild or no symptoms were advised to recover at home. Many Singaporeans said they were unsure what to do and that the government appeared unprepared.
“If the health-care system becomes overburdened, we know from experience that doctors are unable to cope and death rates begin to rise,” Mr. Wong explained. “So we’re doing everything we can to avoid that.”
Several doctors have disputed the government’s claim that the health-care system is overburdened. Dr. Tambyah, who is also the chairman of an opposition party that recently devised an alternative strategy for dealing with the pandemic, stated that hospitals had enough buffer space because Singapore had canceled all elective surgeries.
The issue for Singapore’s leaders, he says, is that they are “basically transitioning from zero Covid to living with the virus.”
The repeated changes to the restrictions have taken their toll on many people. Suicides in 2020 were at their highest level since 2012, a trend that some mental health experts attribute to the pandemic. People have urged the government to take into account the mental health issues raised by the restrictions.
“It’s just economically, sociologically, emotionally, and mentally unsustainable,” said Devadas Krishnadas, CEO of Singapore-based Future-Moves Group. According to Mr. Krishnadas, the decision to reintroduce restrictions after such a high vaccination rate made the country a global outlier.
“Most importantly, it moves Singapore in the polar opposite direction of the rest of the world,” he said. “This raises the strategic question of where this will leave Singapore if we don’t get off the hamster wheel of opening and closing.”
Angeline Ng, a marketing manager, stated that this year was more difficult than the previous one. Before her father died in May, she had to navigate the hospital’s strict visitor limits, which was emotionally taxing. The government’s announcement in July that it would tighten social restrictions once more added to her fatigue.