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PM Lee on Spore’s next steps: Test, trace, vaccinate more quickly and more extensively

Restrictions will be relaxed after June 13 if situation improves

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Singapore – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed the country on Monday ( 31), providing an update on the Covid-19 situation and highlighting the next steps in dealing with the pandemic.

At the beginning of his speech, Mr Lee mentioned that compared to a year ago, when Singapore experienced the first big outbreak, “we are in a much better position today”, as testing and contact tracing capabilities have been improved.

“Crucially, our vaccination programme is well advanced,” he added. “With stronger defences in place, we have not had to impose a full circuit breaker.”

“If our situation continues to improve and the number of community cases falls further, we should be able to relax the restrictions after June 13,” he said.

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However, there are new mutated strains of the virus that are more infectious, such as the B117 variant, first detected in the UK, and the B1617.2 variant, first detected in India and now found in over countries.

More variants will inevitably emerge, said Mr Lee. This implies that Singapore “must continually adjust our strategies and raise our game to keep Covid-19 under control”.

Test, trace and vaccinate

Mr Lee highlighted three key points in Singapore’s Covid-19 strategy.

The first is to test faster and more liberally and extensively to enable the country to detect Covid-19 cases more quickly.

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The approach will allow potentially Covid-19 infected individuals to be isolated promptly, minimising a potential community transmission of the virus.

Mr Lee also noted that many Covid-19 tests have become available such as ARTs (Antigen Rapid Test), saliva tests, breathalysers, wastewater surveillance, even sniffer dogs.

Some of these tests are already being used while others are in the evaluation process, he added.

For example, Mr Lee explained that ART is a faster and cheaper alternative to the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) test, although it is not as accurate.

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“ARTs are therefore invaluable as a quick check” for a likely Covid-19 positive individual to be immediately isolated while waiting for the PCR results.

“As the virus mutates to become more transmissible, we must respond by testing more widely,” said Mr Lee, noting that with cheaper tests, RRTs (Rostered Routine Testing) can be expanded to other high-risk environments such as those in the food and beverage and public transport industries.

“This will reassure their customers, patients and students, and enable them to work safely even with Covid-19 in circulation.”

With the shift in approach to testing, tests will be done not only when a new case pops up but also regularly for those who appear well in normal work or social or community settings.

The second strategy is to contact trace faster and more widely.

Mr Lee highlighted TraceTogether and SafeEntry contract tracing measures currently in place that assist in curbing transmission.

Contract tracing will be widened by also isolating the household members of a close contact of an infected case until the first-degree contact has received test results.

Lastly, Mr Lee announced that vaccination efforts will be increased and sped up.

He noted that a majority of those aged 45 and above have already received at least the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, with those aged 40 to 44 currently being jabbed.

Vaccination efforts will speed up in the next two months as more vaccine shipments arrive.

With the recent rise in Covid-19 transmission within schools, the next group to be vaccinated will be students, taking advantage of the June holidays.

Booking for students will open on Tuesday (June 1). Priority will be given to graduating cohorts for O, N and A levels and special needs students. Students aged 12 and above will be prioritised next.

After the student population, the remaining group, those aged 39 and below, will be vaccinated. Their vaccination is expected to start around mid-June.

As this group is “quite large”, Mr Lee said Singaporeans will be given a two-week priority window to book their appointments ahead of the rest who wish to be vaccinated.

Mr Lee also made special mention of the elderly population for their “excellent response” in getting vaccinated.

Nearly 75 per cent or 760,000 of those aged 60 and above have received at least the first jab of the vaccine or booked an appointment.

He also called for the rest to book an appointment, as the process has been made easier.

“Just turn up at a vaccination centre, and you will be jabbed,” said Mr Lee to those aged 60 and above. Those who cannot visit a vaccination centre can contact the Silver Generation Office, and a medical professional will visit them at home to vaccinate them.

The new normal

Mr Lee highlighted that Covid-19 will not disappear but will linger, eventually becoming endemic.

“We will see small outbreaks from time to time. In this new norm, we will have to learn to carry on with our lives even with a virus in our midst,” said Mr Lee.

Through increased vaccination efforts, he said, serious outbreaks would be prevented and Singapore “can position itself strongly for the .”

“If our situation continues to improve and the number of community cases falls further, we should be able to relax the restrictions after June 13,” said Mr Lee./TISGFollow us on Social Media

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