SINGAPORE – An article in The Straits Times warns that necessary precautions should still remain in place despite entering Phase 2 of the circuit breaker exit on June 19 (Friday).
Although many are hoping to return to some sort of normalcy, experts warn that if Singapore doesn’t want to find itself heading back into strict circuit breaker measures once again, then life shouldn’t actually go back to normal.
Although the number of newly infected patients has been relatively low over the past few days, it doesn’t mean that the risk of infection has lessened. In fact, the dean of the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, Professor Teo Yik Ying explained, “The reality is that Singapore, like China, South Korea, New Zealand and other countries, remains at risk despite the low numbers.”
The article also shared how one specialist in private practice, Dr Asok Kurup said, “If anything, the South Korean nightclub saga and Beijing market story are lessons that we, too, may see some weak links somewhere, however well we have defined safety standards.”
A number of countries have seen an increase in infections after prematurely coming out of lockdown, like South Korea and the infamous nightclub incident where one 29-year old reportedly infected 100 people. Meanwhile, Beijing – which is approximately 1,160 kilometres away from the Covid-19 birthplace in Wuhan, had to do a partial lockdown that included closing schools and cancelling flights because of another food market outbreak, which sounds a bit too close to how the virus had originated in the first place.
It’s a given that with the lifting of more circuit breaker measures, citizens will surely be in more contact with other people, making the possibility of infection higher. Yet Professor Teo warns, “We need to continue to be mindful of the risk involved, especially when there are going to be more interactions between people now.”
The straitstimes.com article also shared how vice-dean of research at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, Associate Professor Alex Cooks cites, “We have few cases. We are better prepared. Yet the population is still almost entirely susceptible. So it’s like we’re back to February – not to before the pandemic started – and we need to act accordingly.”
In fact, Professor Dale Fisher, an infectious diseases consultant at the National University Hospital, reiterates the same point, saying, “The community needs to fear a reversal of the opening up and behave in many ways like in phase one if possible.”
The experts also warn that at this point, no one is immune to getting the virus, and even though a number have actually recovered from the disease, herd immunity is still not plausible given that that number is still not high enough.
Another point made by Professor Cook, who happens to be an expert in disease modelling used to predict trends, cautioned that “Any second wave would be starting from a low base, so even if the epidemic picked up speed, it would take some time for our healthcare capacity to be threatened.”
He added, “If we reached 25 per cent of our intensive care unit capacity, I would be very worried. If an out-of-control epidemic doubles every week, then reaching such a level would mean we are two weeks from disaster.”
In order for Singapore to not find itself in the grips of another rise in infections, then people need to make sure that they remain “sensible about their activities and not take the easing of measures to mean everything is fine now,” said Prof Cook.
“If people think that with the easing of rules in phase two, it means they can take advantage of it and start to meet multiple disparate groups of people, then such action will clearly increase the person’s risk of being infected,” he added.
Although employees are headed back to work, kids will be stepping inside classrooms again, and malls and restaurants are re-opened, locals are asked to continue to take safety measures seriously. Aside from using masks, 1-meter physical distance is also required, and companies are encouraged to have their people work from home, when possible.
“People should adopt the new normal. It is not going to be life as usual pre-pandemic,” Dr Kurup explained. “This is not the time to have multiple dining sessions with different groups on consecutive days. Be less of a social animal and always remember that the virus is tenacious whereas humankind is fallible.”
Of course, no matter how many warnings and guidelines are given by public officials and health experts unless the public chooses to be proactive, there’s nothing the government can do aside from insisting on another lockdown if transmissions begin to grow once more.
People need to remember that the virus hasn’t gone away, the world and its citizens just need to learn how to co-exist with it safely in this “new normal.” /TISG