With high Covid-19 vaccination rates, sufficient healthcare capacity, Singapore on track to further ease curbs this week


People standing along the pier next to the Merlion statue in Singapore on Monday (Aug 16, 2021). - AFP

SINGAPORE, Aug 16 (The Straits Times/ANN): Singapore is on track to further ease its Covid-19 measures this week, experts say, as more people are vaccinated and there are adequate healthcare resources to care for those with severe infection.

Dr Noel Yeo, chief operating officer for healthcare services network IHH Healthcare Singapore, said: "About 75 per cent of our total population has completed full vaccination, while the numbers of new daily cases and hospitalised cases, including patients requiring oxygen and intensive care, are on the decline."

IHH Healthcare Singapore operates hospitals such as Mount Elizabeth and Gleneagles.

Dr Yeo said: "The Covid-19 situation in Singapore appears under control and (the country is) prepared for further increases in event sizes and capacity limits from Thursday."

The raised limits would apply to congregational and other worship services, cinemas, cruises and shopping malls, the Government had said.

Work-from-home requirements will also be eased, with up to 50 per cent of employees now working from home able to return to the workplace.

Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, noted that public health measures are not being lifted all at once.

Measures such as mandatory mask wearing and border controls will still help to minimise transmissions in the community.

Prof Teo said: "The high percentage of fully vaccinated people in the population means... the impact to the health of the individuals, as well as to the health system, is minimal, as long as the vast majority of these infections happen in people who have been vaccinated."

If larger-scale events are allowed to go ahead from Thursday, it would mark the second of a two-step approach to reopening the economy after stricter rules were imposed on July 22 in response to a surge in local cases.

The first step kicked in on Aug 10, with dining out allowed again and vaccinated people allowed to gather in groups of up to five.

Asked whether the cycle of tightening and relaxing of measures would continue, experts said this depends on the impact of infections on healthcare systems rather than the daily number of cases.

Professor Dale Fisher, a senior consultant in infectious diseases at the National University Hospital, said that while daily case numbers have fallen since the recent easing of restrictions, it would only be "a matter of time" before they increase again.

He said: "The most important metric is severe illness. The number of cases requiring oxygen or intensive care remains flat, and our belief and hope is that we don't see this climb too much as case numbers grow."

For now, data has shown that vaccines used in Singapore are effective against severe disease and deaths caused by Covid-19, said Prof Teo.

But new variants of the coronavirus can challenge the present vaccines, he added.

"This is why Singapore and other countries must continue to perform global surveillance, to monitor whether there are new variants emerging, and what the effect is of current vaccines against these new variants."

Associate Professor Alex Cook, also from the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, held the same view.

"Any future tightening should not be to get cases under control or buy time, but to get severe disease under control," he said. "If the intensive care unit capacity is coming under threat... then there's a valid case to be made to implement another circuit breaker to head that risk off."

As viruses spread, they may develop mutations that make them more transmissible or severe.

World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has blamed the rise in the global number of cases on inequitable vaccine production and distribution worldwide. - The Straits Times/ANN

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