SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/ANN): In April, when the Covid-19 outbreaks in the United States and United Kingdom were 10 times worse than Singapore's, both places felt numbers were good enough to loosen restrictions and allow people to mingle more.
Singapore, at this point, tightened measures further, stopping dine-in at eateries and putting in place home-based learning for students, among others.
Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, stressed Singapore's cautious approach in combating the virus at a live panel discussion organised by The Straits Times on Tuesday (June 1).
"On a per capita basis, the number of cases given the number of population each country has, Singapore's outbreak in May was actually 10 times less than what the UK and the US were experiencing at that time," he said.
This was when Singapore adjusted its measures to keep up with new variants that had infiltrated the country, including the more infectious B1617 strain first discovered in India.
The panel, Living With Covid-19: Singapore's New Normal, was moderated by ST science correspondent Audrey Tan.
Apart from Prof Teo, the two other experts included Prof Lisa Ng, executive director of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*Star) Infectious Diseases Labs, and Dr Danny Soon, chief executive officer at the Consortium for Clinical Research and Innovation, Singapore.
All three pointed out that as the coronavirus looks set to be endemic, regular vaccination against Covid-19, just like a yearly flu shot, will be the new normal if Singaporeans want the coronavirus to be like a flu-like disease.
"At some point, we will see Covid-19 being included as part of our national immunisation schedule for both adults and children, and perhaps we will need regular booster shots from time to time to make sure we continue to be protected, especially against any new emerging variants," said Prof Teo.
"Once in a while, we will have people who will be infected, just like TB (tuberculosis), just like tetanus."
There is still uncertainty, as new variants are expected to emerge.
Hence, Prof Ng said it would be useful to take booster shots that have been updated with the different new variants, much like how the regular flu vaccine shots are updated.
Dr Soon pointed out that the pandemic is far from over, as a small leak can take hold among unvaccinated people.
But people now can do something about it and get vaccinated.
"Very few people who are vaccinated get very ill or die from the disease," he said.
Apart from preventing illness in an individual, vaccinations also help dampen infection numbers and slow the mutation of the virus.
In the short term, as Singapore gets up to speed on vaccinations, testing and contact tracing will be key, the experts said.
On Monday, in a nationally broadcast address, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke about the latest Covid-19 containment efforts and living with an endemic virus.
He said that Singapore will ramp up its pace of vaccination, and both test for and contact trace Covid-19 cases more quickly and extensively going forward as the country adjusts to deal with more infectious variants.
He added that self-testing may become part of the new normal. - The Straits Times/Asia News Network