More Covid-19 infections and new wave expected with year-end travel, festivities: Ong Ye Kung

Singaporeans should expect a new wave of Covid-19 infections soon with more people travelling and due to the upcoming year-end festivities. - ST

SINGAPORE (The Straits Times/Asia News Network): Singaporeans should expect a new wave of Covid-19 infections with more people travelling and due to the upcoming year-end festivities, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Sunday (Dec 4).

“With more travel and with Christmas and the New Year coming and people going out, there are bound to be more infections, but it is not something we have never seen before,” Ong said.

“This year alone, we have seen three infection waves which were all quite big. The first two were Omicron: BA.2, then BA.5 and then XBB.

“So there will be a new wave,” said Ong, reiterating: “But it is not something that we have not seen before.”

Singapore has coped with waves of Covid-19 variant infections before. The BA.2 Omicron wave peaked here in March, and its BA.5 sub-variant led to a wave of infections in June and July. Singapore then dealt with the XBB variant in October and November.

What is more important is to monitor developments overseas and watch if a new variant of concern emerges when winter hits the Northern Hemisphere, said Mr Ong, who spoke to reporters at Nanyang Junior College during an event organised by the Chinese Development Assistance Council.

The European Union’s drug agency said in September that entirely new Covid-19 variants could emerge this winter, and that these new variants might end up being closer to earlier Omicron strains that have now largely been overtaken by the BA.4 and 5 types.

What happens in China will also matter. Ong said: “When China opens up more – it looks like they are shifting their policy – and if they do so, then there are bound to be more infections. You can see that more and more people are infected in China and when that happens, given the density and enormous population of China, there are bound to be new variants.”

On how Singapore will respond, he said: “For the past year, our direction has been very clear and I hope people see that too. (And that is) whenever we can open, we will open up further.”

He added that there are very few Covid-19 rules now and life has almost gone back to normal for people here.

Since Covid-19 restrictions were eased in August, it has no longer been mandatory to wear masks except at healthcare facilities, residential care homes and on public transport.

But the Ministry of Health encouraged individuals to wear masks when in crowded places, or when visiting or interacting with vulnerable people.

There is also currently no group size limit for social gatherings and no limit on the number of visitors per household.

Over the last 28 days, 44,571 people have been infected with Covid-19. Of these, 99.7 per cent had mild or no symptoms while 0.3 per cent required oxygen supplementation and 0.04 per cent were warded in the intensive care unit.

As at noon on Saturday, the seven-day moving average of local cases stood at 1,023.

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