SINGAPORE — The government will ensure that every Singaporean who requires the COVID-19 vaccine can purchase it affordably, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (9 June).
“If and when a vaccine becomes available, we will make sure that every Singaporean who needs it gets it, and at an affordable price,” assured Wong, who is also co-chair of Singapore’s COVID-19 multi-taskforce, in a 15-minute speech televised on regional broadcaster CNA.
“The good news is that there is a massive global effort to develop a vaccine. And Singapore is working on this too,” he added, referring to Singapore’s existing pharmaceutical industry and research capabilities in biomedical science.
The Economic Development Board is also discussing with pharmaceutical companies to manufacture vaccines in Singapore, said Wong.
At the same time, clinicians and researchers around the world, including teams from Singapore, are working hard to develop drugs and other therapies to reduce the severity of the disease, he added.
But Wong noted that drug and vaccine development is “very challenging work” with “no guarantee that the drugs currently undergoing clinical trials will be effective”.
“Despite the intensive international efforts, it will take a long time for any vaccine to be ready and available for mass distribution,” he said.
The World Health Organisation revealed in its most recent update on global vaccine development projects, published last Tuesday, at least 133 vaccines are currently being tested around the world. Experts globally have estimated that a vaccine would be ready in one year to 18 months.
“So we have to be realistic and gird ourselves for more challenging times. It is not likely that the virus will go away. Our population will be vulnerable for a long time, in a world where COVID-19 is all around us,” he added.
Wong’s delivery is the second in a series of national speeches by cabinet ministers, followed by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s last Sunday. Senior Minister Teo Chee Hean’s speech is scheduled to broadcast on Thursday.
Every aspect of society must adapt to new norm
In his speech on “Living with COVID-19”, Wong also stressed that society in Singapore will need to adapt to the virus and learn to live with it long-term with everyone – government, businesses, and individuals – doing their part.
“What’s critical is people’s behaviour and mindsets. We must stay disciplined and vigilant, and not let our guard down. We must practise social responsibility in upholding good personal hygiene and safe distancing measures – wash our hands regularly, wear a mask wherever we go, avoid big gatherings and crowded places, and see a doctor immediately when we are sick,” he said.
These actions will enable Singapore to have a safe and sustainable reopening, as seen in countries like Denmark and New Zealand, Wong noted.
“Conversely, if we are lax in our personal precautions, new cases, and new clusters will multiply quickly, and despite our best efforts to test and trace, we might end up in another circuit breaker down the road,” he added.
Changes must also be incorporated in our daily lives, including in the work environment, and making work arrangements flexible through staggered working hours, working from home and split team arrangements.
“Our urban plans will need to cater to these new demands. Office and building designs will also have to change, given what we now know about the risks of transmission in enclosed spaces,” Wong added.
Among the changes include improving ventilation and air filtering inside buildings as well as making features such as contactless fittings, automatic doors, hand sanitiser, and temperature monitoring stations as “part of the norm”.
Companies will also have to find new and safer ways to deliver their products and services, he said.
“Many are already embracing digital solutions. Some will need to change their business practices to adapt to the new environment,” noted Wong.
“And I am happy that wet market stallholders and hawkers are now using digital payments more, and online platforms to reach new customers.”
The construction sector here, described by Wong as “a key vulnerability in this pandemic”, will need to “institute new safeguards at worksites, and continue its push for automation and productivity, in order to reduce its reliance on migrant workers”.
Workers in construction – local and foreign – will have to be tested regularly and comprehensively, he added.
“We will also need to review and improve living arrangements for migrant workers. The present dormitories are in fact the outcome of improvements made over the past decade. But despite this, and the precautions we took, we still had major outbreaks in the dormitories,” said Wong.
“We will tighten the safeguards and build new dormitories designed to be more resilient against infection risks.”
To date, over 36,000 of Singapore’s 38,514 COVID-19 cases are foreign workers living in dorms. Some 400,000 workers living in such dorms here.
But Wong stressed that the risk of an infectious disease outbreak “will always be there”, due to the large number of workers living together and sharing communal facilities as well as in other communal living spaces, such as nursing homes and cruise ships.
“Ultimately, re-opening our economy and society does not mean going back to the status quo ante. I know many are looking forward to resume your favourite activities or to get back to your usual routines,” he said.
“But this is not the time for big celebrations or parties. We will all need to adjust our expectations, lifestyles and norms.”
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