Singapore cannot yet open up like UK, US and Israel: Ong Ye Kung

SINGAPORE – With 50 per cent of the population fully vaccinated, Singapore is not yet ready to open up as aggressively as countries like the UK and Israel, and some US states, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.

Speaking at a virtual press conference, the COVID multi-ministry taskforce (MTF) co-chair said, "We may read the papers and wonder why are they so brave and courageous in opening up. The reason really is one, their vaccination rate officially is higher than Singapore. Two, they have undergone waves of very traumatic transmission. Many of the population are recovered patients with natural immunity... that adds to their vaccination rate."

High rates of vaccination among seniors

Lastly – and "very importantly", he said – "they have very high rates of vaccination among the seniors, some going up to 90, 95 per cent".

Currently, some 50 per cent of Singapore's resident population who are eligible are fully vaccinated. Some 30 per cent of seniors aged 70 and above remain unvaccinated.

But in the coming days, Ong said, "we will reach at least 75 per cent just based on bookings alone". "We know we will have 75 per cent in the bag. But (in the) coming weeks, if we can reach out to even more, maybe we can reach 80, 85 per cent," he said.

At the same time, he pointed out, as the rest of the community become more vaccinated, "we are also less likely to get infected, which means we are also less likely to bring the virus back home and infecting them (seniors)".

Differentiated approach in the future

Earlier in the conference, MTF co-chair Gan Kim Yong also said that the government would be implementing differentiated treatment or public health measures depending on vaccination status. This will be put in place as Singapore's economy continues to progressively open up.

"We will introduce a differentiated approach for those who are vaccinated.... (they) will then be allowed to do a lot more activities because they're protected," he said. "And for those who are seniors who are not yet vaccinated, including those who cannot be vaccinated, then we may have to put in additional precautions to protect them. Some of the high risk activities... they may not be able to participate in..."

He stressed however that the government's focus in the next weeks, as Singapore reverts to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), is to try to get as many seniors as possible to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

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