Lawrence Wong hopes details on COVID-19 vaccination roll-out will be ready in Jan: report

The first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines being unloaded from the plane upon its arrival in Singapore. (PHOTO: Ministry of Communication and Information)
The first batch of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines being unloaded from the plane upon its arrival in Singapore. (PHOTO: Ministry of Communication and Information)

SINGAPORE — Details on the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccination in Singapore will hopefully be released by January, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (22 December).

The Straits Times reported Wong as saying that exact details on the roll-out, such as the different phases of the vaccination programme and who will go through them, would depend on multiple variables that are still uncertain.

These include the vaccines’ supply and delivery schedule, and when other vaccines get authorised for use here, said the co-chairman of the multi-ministry taskforce (MTF) on COVID-19 in Singapore.

“When we have greater certainty of when, what sort of supply and delivery schedule we can expect in Singapore, that will be matched with the vaccinations programme, the different phases of vaccination,” Wong told The Straits Times.

Priority for healthcare and front-line workers to get vaccines

Singapore received its first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines on Monday – becoming the first country in Asia to obtain the vaccine – a week before it is set to enter Phase 3 of reopening after its circuit breaker period in April and May.

The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been approved by the Health Sciences Authority for individuals aged 16 years and above.

The roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccination to the Singapore population will take place over several months, and if all goes to plan, Singapore will have enough vaccines to inoculate everyone by the third quarter of 2021. It will be free for Singaporeans and long-term residents and, while voluntary, authorities have strongly encouraged the public to get vaccinated.

Wong told The Straits Times that priority for the vaccines will be given to groups such as healthcare and front-line workers, and the first vaccines will be administered to these workers some time between the end of the year and January or February.

"I think it will be some time before we can talk about opening up and offering the vaccine to the broader population," he told The Straits Times.

Checks to be stepped up at hot spots in the coming weekends

Wong also said that authorities will be stepping up checks in the coming weekends amid the festive season, with more safe-distancing ambassadors and enforcement officers to be deployed at hot spots and popular areas around Singapore.

Already, the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment reported on Tuesday that five food-and-beverage outlets have been ordered to close, while 16 other outlets and 36 individuals will be fined for breaching safe management measures, after recent checks over the past weekend.

“I would again remind and encourage everyone, just do your part, comply with the measures. Do not push the boundaries,” Wong told The Straits Times.

“This is not the time to let our guard down... to think that Singapore is very safe and therefore we can afford to push the boundaries, relax and just enjoy ourselves with large gatherings.”

Tightening borders due to new, more infectious strain in UK

With the discovery of a new and seemingly more infectious strain of COVID-19 in the UK, coupled with rising number of infection cases in the Australian state of New South Wales, Singapore tightened border measures against these two regions on Tuesday, barring short-term visitors with travel history to these two regions in the last 14 days from entering the country.

Wong said that, from preliminary assessments, the new COVID-19 strain discovered in the UK is 70 per cent more infectious than the common strain, making it a “significant” enough concern for Singapore to stop all incoming travellers from the UK during this period until more is learnt about the new strain.

“We still need to understand, beyond the fact that it is more transmissible, whether it is going to lead to a more severe disease, or will there be other impact,” said Wong, who added that the new strain has not been detected in Singapore yet.

“You never know whether there will be exposure – for example, during the flight, the cabin crew, the workers in the airport, the staff at the hotel... There is nothing that is 100 per cent fool-proof. We may make this tightening (of border measures) on the UK, but the strain could come through another country. One can never tell because it's quite likely that this strain may have already spread beyond the UK to other countries.

“I think having this additional precaution now is necessary and prudent, because of the uncertainty and the risk.”

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