Singapore — The first parliamentary session of the year, which was live-streamed on Monday (Jan 4), heard updates on the Covid-19 pandemic.
Education Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chairman with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong of the Multi-Ministry Task Force on Covid-19, said that whether or not the vaccines will have a considerable effect in curbing the spread of infections is still being studied.
So, for the time being, travellers who have been vaccinated are still subject to the same border measures and stay-home requirements as non-vaccinated travellers.
However, the Government will consider relaxing stay-home measures for travellers who have been vaccinated when more data becomes available.
He added that the biggest advantage the vaccine brings is to protect those who have received the doses, which means the spread of the virus is likely to be reduced, although how extensive this reduction will be is yet to be determined.
Mr Gan answered a question from Mr Melvin Yong (PAP-Radin Mas SMC) regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine against the new Covid-19 strain discovered in the United Kingdom last month, which has been shown to be more easily spread.
Mr Gan said that there is no proof at present that available vaccines are less effective in tackling the new strain, citing statements from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. He added that the Ministry of Health will asses new data and information as it comes.
He added that those who have been vaccinated in Singapore will have both a physical and online record, noting that almost 60 per cent of those surveyed said they would avail of the vaccine, and another third said they want to wait for more data before making a choice as to whether or not to get vaccinated.
In an answer to a question from Mr Louis Chua (WP-Sengkang GRC), the Health Minister said that people will not be able to choose a particular vaccine as this would “unnecessarily complicate the already complex vaccination programme”.
At this point, he added, only the vaccine from Pfizer-BioNTech has been approved for use in Singapore.
Mr Gerald Giam (WP-Aljunied GRC) asked Mr Wong how the Government is managing the risk of arrivals to Singapore, especially for children aged 6 and under.
Mr Wong replied that of the 12,000 arrivals to Singapore from Nov 18 to Dec 27, 2020, from higher-risk countries or regions who came to the country without pre-departure tests, about 100 individuals, or .85 per cent, have tested positive for Covid-19.
The majority of the arrivals are Singapore citizens and permanent residents, and none of those found positive have caused local transmissions, he added. Citizens and permanent residents are not required to take pre-departure tests.
He also noted that some countries may not readily offer Covid-19 testing for young children, adding “but through the Stay-Home Notice (SHN), we ensure that community transmission risks are minimised, even in the absence of a pre-departure test”.
Mr Wong noted that the Covid-19 vaccine is not a silver bullet. He emphasised that the number of infections around the world is continuing to grow, which is why Singapore cannot get complacent.
“We cannot afford to relax and let our guard down… The global situation continues to escalate rapidly.
“With the virus raging around the world, we clearly cannot afford to freely open our borders at this time.
“But neither can we close ourselves completely from the world, and simply stop all flights or ships coming to Singapore.
“Trade and travel are our lifeblood. This is an existential issue for us because we do not have the luxury of a hinterland to depend on.” /TISG
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