SINGAPORE — Mask wearing will only be made mandatory on public transport and in healthcare settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes, during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Singapore.
This was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during his National Day Rally 2022 speech delivered in English on Sunday (21 August) night at the Institute of Technical Education headquarters at Ang Mo Kio.
"Everywhere else, outdoors or indoors, masks will be optional," said Lee, to prevent mask-wearing "fatigue" from setting in given that Singapore's COVID-19 situation is stabilising.
For schools, in particular, he noted, children need to be able to see the facial expressions of their teachers and of each other, which is crucial for their learning and development.
However, Lee stressed not to "take off your masks this very moment" and instead, wait for the detailed announcement on the easing of mask-wearing measures by the multi-ministry COVID-19 taskforce.
The mandate on outdoor mask-wearing in Singapore was lifted on 29 March due to the significantly lower risk of transmission.
However, most Singaporeans still “cautiously chose” to wear their masks outdoors despite the rule easing, Lee said in a Facebook post on 7 April.
Authorities also further eased COVID-19 curbs from 26 April as Singapore lowered its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) alert level from orange to yellow.
Fewer COVID deaths compared with other countries
Lee also said that if Singapore's mortality rate due to the novel coronavirus had been like other countries, the country "could easily have suffered 10,000 COVID-19 deaths, or more by now".
"Our collective efforts have saved many lives," he said, adding that Singapore has seen fewer than 1,600 COVID-19-related deaths thus far.
"Key to our success has been the high level of trust in our society. In some countries, a precaution as simple and essential as mask-wearing became a heated point of contention."
Singapore has come a long way in its fight against COVID-19 and has managed the impact better with each infection wave, Lee said, adding the latest Omicron BA.5 wave is now subsiding.
In many other countries, when a wave happens, cases "shoot up furiously and then crash down suddenly, like a roller coaster", he noted, resulting in hospitals coming under a lot of pressure.
"In Singapore, our waves grow as well as tail off more gradually. This suggests we have been effective in slowing down disease transmission," Lee said. Consequently, Singapore has prevented its hospitals from being overwhelmed, he added.
However, Singapore must be prepared to encounter more variants and waves as COVID-19 will be here with us for some time, Lee stressed.
Special state award for efforts against COVID
Amid the darkness of the pandemic, people in Singapore have shown personal acts of kindness, courage, and concern, with many going above and beyond their call of duty, Lee said.
Healthcare workers, through their care and professionalism, ensured that the rest of Singapore could carry on safely with their daily lives, he noted.
Public officers, especially those on the frontlines, carried out many demanding operations while private companies generously provided support to tackle many problems.
Non-governmental organisations and community groups also made efforts to take care of those who needed more help, he said.
"And countless individuals from all walks of life who joined in our whole-of-nation response – your actions were critical in our fight against COVID-19. The nation is grateful to all of you."
In recognition of their sacrifices and public spirit, the government will present everyone who helped to directly fight COVID-19 during the pandemic – both individuals and teams – with a special state award called the COVID-19 Resilience Medal, he said.
In addition, those who made exceptional contributions will receive existing state awards such as the Commendation Medal, the Public Service Medal, and the Public Administration Medal.
Lee joked, "We will add a special indication to the name and the insignia, to show that this time the medal was presented for service fighting COVID-19 – maybe we will add on the ribbon two red lines (like those in antigen rapid test results)!"
The awards list will be announced at the end of the year, with award ceremonies held next year.
Read more about the National Day Rally 2022, including what were some of the major announcements and the reactions to PM Lee's speech.
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