Singapore won't reach COVID herd immunity: Lawrence Wong

SINGAPORE — Singapore will not reach herd immunity in the pandemic despite its high COVID-19 vaccination rate, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Thursday (19 August).

"The path towards being a COVID resilient nation is going to be a long and hard slog. Even with very high vaccination rates, we are not going to reach herd immunity, where the outbreak just fizzles out," Wong warned during a virtual multi-ministry taskforce conference.

Instead, Singapore must be mentally prepared that cases will rise as the country resumes activities and reopens its economy in a controlled manner, he said. "We are feeling the stones as we cross the river."

In the past 19 months, Singapore has been able to manage the pandemic effectively, keeping its hospital system intact and minimising fatalities, Wong said. The Republic's overall aim is to move towards the end of the pandemic with "minimum death and damage" as a society and return to normal life, he added.

In Singapore, 77 per cent of the population have completed their full regimen, or received two doses of COVID-19 vaccines, with 82 per cent having received at least one dose.

Almost 90 per cent of the eligible population are expected to be fully vaccinated next month.

In a report by Reuters on Tuesday, citing the National University of Singapore (NUS) infectious disease modelling expert Alex Cook, as many as 1,000 may die in the next year or two in Singapore if vaccinations among the elderly do not improve.

Delta variant still a concern in Singapore

In response to a question by Yahoo News Singapore during the press conference, Ministry of Health (MOH) director of medical services Kenneth Mak said that of the nine COVID-19 related deaths in Singapore this month, a number of them were found to be linked to the Delta variant or its minor mutations.

This finding was based on the fatalities who had undergone phylogenetic testing, said Professor Mak, who did not specify the number of such patients or the percentage of Delta-related deaths among those who died from coronavirus complications here.

“They are not all necessarily the same but as a cluster evolves, sometimes you do see minor mutations or minor variations take place, but they are all related to the Delta variant that we have picked up. So these deaths are not...of other variants.”

Almost all recent deaths in the past weeks were linked to some of the latest community clusters, Professor Mak added.

Singapore’s latest and 46th fatality from the pandemic was a 64-year-old Singaporean man who had not been vaccinated against COVID-19, the MOH said on Wednesday.

Since May, the Delta variant, first identified in India, has become the dominant variant circulating in Singapore. It is also the dominant strain behind recent surges of infections worldwide.

According to the GISAID (global initiative on sharing avian influenza data), the world's largest database of novel coronavirus genome sequences, the first case of the Delta variant in Singapore was detected on 26 February.

The database shows that there were 2,913 cases of the Delta variant here as of 11 August, with all infections here in the previous four weeks attributed to the variant.

There were no cases of the Delta Plus variant from the phylogenetic testing done for all infections here as of 6 August.

The Delta Plus is a sub-lineage of the Delta variant and has acquired the spike protein mutation called K417N, which is also found in the Beta variant first identified in South Africa.

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