SINGAPORE, Jan 21 (Bloomberg): Singapore, anticipating a surge of the now-prevalent omicron variant in the country, is taking steps to minimize disruption by lowering isolation periods and testing requirements for vaccinated travelers.
Officials in the city-state asked businesses to prepare continuity plans and encourage regular testing as it warned of potential mass absences caused by workers getting infected by the highly-transmissible omicron variant. "As the number of infections could potentially be very large, absenteeism rate can go up very sharply,” the health ministry said in a statement Friday.
The maximum isolation period for positive cases will be cut to seven days from 10 for vaccinated individuals, the ministry also said.
Meanwhile, from Jan. 24, travelers to Singapore via its vaccinated travel lanes will only be required to do unsupervised Covid-19 tests from the second day after arrival till the seventh day, if they need to leave their accommodation.
Singapore, one of the most vaccinated places in the world, is attempting to transition to living with the virus while ensuring the health-care system isn’t overwhelmed. Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said Friday during a briefing that officials are "guided by the science” when asked if the business hub will consider further reducing the self-isolation period to five days, a move that has been adopted in other nations like the US and UK.
"It is quite clear the omicron wave in Singapore has started,” Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said at the same briefing. Singapore will have the ability and confidence to "think ahead for the next round of opening up” once it has gotten through the wave and is assured that the healthcare system can cope, he said.
"We have not seen the full impact of the omicron wave in Singapore and now is not the right time to take a gamble to remove vaccination-differentiated safe management measures on the hunch that omicron may be less severe for the infected unvaccinated,” said health minister Ong. "We cannot gamble on the health of Singaporeans.”
Here are other points from the briefing:
*In-person visits to hospital wards and residential care homes will be suspended from Jan. 24 to Feb. 20.
*Booster doses will be offered to 12-17 year-olds from early February, and they will need such doses to also maintain their vaccinated status.
*An initial analysis of 50 cases from a vaccination study involving 150 children aged 5-11 showed that all of them developed high antibody levels in response to two pediatric doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with lower rates of adverse reactions than adolescents and none requiring hospitalization.
*Positive infections detected using antigen rapid tests at healthcare facilities will be reported, together with the PCR positive cases, as the country uses such tests more regularly.
*There was an average of about 800 such positive cases reported daily in the past week.
*With 88% of its total population vaccinated, Singapore is banking on boosters, home recovery and testing to manage cases. Authorities continued to urge caution during the upcoming Lunar New Year festival, and advised people to limit interactions with friends and family.
*Under current rules, five people are allowed to gather while many places like malls and offices are only open to those who are vaccinated.
*The country is bracing for daily cases to reach 15,000, or even more, a day. - Bloomberg