Snap lockdowns cannot 'go on forever', Singapore must reopen: Ong Ye Kung

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, who co-chairs a multi-ministry taskforce on COVID-19, addresses reporters at a virtual press conference. (PHOTO: Ministry of Communications and Information)
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, who co-chairs a multi-ministry taskforce on COVID-19, addresses reporters at a virtual press conference. (PHOTO: Ministry of Communications and Information)

SINGAPORE — Snap lockdowns cannot "go on forever" if Singapore is to retain its competitiveness and viability, but the country's reopening will depend on its vaccination rate, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Friday (18 June).

"At some point, with our higher capabilities, high vaccination, we must be able to reconnect with the world. Travel must start again," said Ong at a virtual media briefing by the multi-ministry taskforce on COVID-19 (MTF).

Alluding to exchanges between businessmen, investors and students, he added, "At some point, and in the very near future, we must be able to revive that."

Ong was responding to a question from Yahoo News Singapore on whether snap lockdowns are sustainable on an economic and social level, given the growing anxiety among residents in Singapore and that many businesses are suffering.

Earlier in the briefing, the minister also alluded to the need for Singapore to connect with the world again. For a start, food & beverage outlets and gyms cannot be "opening and closing in tandem" with infection clusters. However, this will depend on the country attaining a higher vaccination rate.

Currently, 49 per cent of the population have received their first dose, and slightly over 35 per cent are fully vaccinated. Ong also revealed that vaccination rates have gone up from 40,000 doses a day in May, to 47,000 doses a day over the past two weeks, pledging that "it will go higher in the coming weeks".

Adding that raising the vaccination rate is now the imperative, he stressed, "Without higher vaccination rates, infection numbers will still matter because high infections can lead to more severe illnesses, especially amongst those those who are more vulnerable."

No different from a full lockdown?

While Ong had earlier expressed confidence that Singapore has left the days of the circuit breaker behind, Yahoo News Singapore pointed out that, on the ground, the sentiment is that there is little practical difference between a full lockdown and the current restrictions.

Acknowledging that there is little difference for F&B outlets, which are currently not allowed to have dine-in customers until from 21 June, Ong noted that many other businesses such as manufacturing plants and construction firms are still allowed to operate.

Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, another MTF co-chair, also weighed in, noting that as the circuit breaker was more than a year ago, many might have forgotten that the period was "quite a severe restriction on many activities in the community".

Noting that there are many Singapore-based businesses whose ability to travel around the region for work has been curtailed for a long time, Gan added, "I think we have to look at all the measures taken together, that will allow us to restore economic activities as quickly as possible. We will have to carefully consider how we can to resume because this is very critical to the businesses who are based here in Singapore."

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