S'pore can neither remove all social restrictions nor go for 'zero-Covid' strategy: Ong Ye Kung

Singapore must not allow infections to rise uncontrollably, nor lock down its society and cause the people to suffer.

Kayla Wong | January 10, 2022, 01:34 PM

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Singapore cannot go for an overly liberal approach in opening up amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, nor can it go for the other extreme of a zero-Covid strategy, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said in parliament on Monday, Jan. 10.

Singapore cannot remove all restrictions as healthcare capacity is limited

"We cannot over-liberalise, remove all social restrictions, let infections rise uncontrollably and leave the healthcare system to bear the consequences," Ong explained.

The Health Minister co-chairs the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on the pandemic with Finance Minister Lawrence Wong.

Ong also explained that Singapore has sized its emergency healthcare capacity based on what is "sustainable and practical".

Referring to the pandemic as "a crisis of a generation", Ong said the capacity needed cannot be provided within the country's usual redundancy provision, and that ICU-trained staff do not just "increase multi-fold overnight or even over a few months".

As a result, the government has tried to temper infection numbers by implementing Safe Management Measures and exercising self-restraint in social interactions.

Singapore also cannot go for zero-Covid strategy as it will cause much suffering

However, Singapore cannot afford to pursue a "zero-Covid" strategy as well.

"Neither do we swing to the other extreme, protect the healthcare system at all cost, go for a zero-Covid strategy, and lock down our borders and society which will cause tremendous suffering to our people," Ong added.

This echoes what PM Lee Hsien Loong said previously at a national address on Oct. 9, when he said the government had "concluded a few months ago that a 'zero-Covid' strategy was no longer feasible".

PM Lee added that it would be "very costly" for Singapore to "stay locked down and closed off indefinitely."

He elaborated:

"We would be unable to resume our lives, participate in social activities, open our borders, and revive our economy.

Each time we tighten up, businesses are further disrupted. Workers lose jobs. Children are deprived of a proper childhood and school life. Families are separated for even longer. Especially families with loved ones overseas and extended families who have not been able to come together.

All these cause psychological and emotional strain, and mental fatigue."

Balance must be struck

Ong further said that vaccinations, expansion of healthcare capacity, and Safe Management Measures must work in tandem, and that a balance must be struck between them.

"How the three factors balance off each other, is a matter of judgment depending on the pandemic situation," he said.

"It will be too rigid to set metrics and parameters to trigger social restrictions, as we need to respond flexibly and appropriately to the twists and turns that the pandemic situation may take."

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