Singapore’s government is assessing the timing and the scope of the next stage of reopening after a rise in local Covid-19 cases, adding to short-term uncertainty for key sectors of the economy even as vaccinations neared a key milestone.
Authorities found 19 new community cases on Wednesday, with 3 infections unlinked. It was the highest local daily total since June 3, when 35 cases were found, and comes as officials try to contain a cluster that emerged last weekend in a shopping mall and food center.
The government had planned to allow dining-in at restaurants and the opening of fitness classes from June 21 if cases remained under control, a week after raising group sizes to five from two persons. Yet, the recent rise in cases has invited questions as to whether the government should proceed more cautiously until more people are vaccinated.
“With these latest developments, we are evaluating the timeline and the scope of our second stage of opening.” Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-leads the country’s virus task force, said in a video posted on Facebook.
“I want to assure all of you that we are doing our very best to control the infection, and we want to ensure that we do not have another flare-up before we reach sufficiently high levels of vaccination in our community.” Wong said a decision on how to proceed would be announced soon.
Singapore has been pursuing a strategy of aggressively testing and quickly ring fencing clusters as it pushes forward with its vaccination program in a bid to gradually reopen in step with developed countries. The Health Ministry said earlier in the day that nearly half of the country’s residents have received their first dose of the vaccine.
Government data showed more than 47% of population have received their first jabs as of June 14 and about 35% are now fully inoculated, making Singapore one of the fastest in rolling out vaccinations in Asia. In contrast, just 6% of Hong Kong’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to Bloomberg’s Covid-19 Vaccine Tracker.
Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and government leaders have said mass vaccination is key to allowing the trade hub to more fully reopen, even as they expect Covid-19 will remain a threat for years to come. The target is to get two-thirds of residents their first dose by early July, provided supplies arrived as planned.
Singapore recently doubled the gap between doses in order to allow more people to get their first jabs of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccines. All Singaporeans 12 and above are now eligible to book vaccine appointments, and the last remaining group — non-citizens 39 and under — will be able to register in the coming weeks, the government earlier said.
The government sees vaccinations as a “key enabler” to help Singapore reopen safely with further relaxations on event sizes, mask wearing and travel seen with a sufficient proportion of the population fully vaccinated. While officials have not explicitly stated what those vaccination reopening triggers will be, the government expects half of the population to be fully vaccinated by August and 75% fully vaccinated by October.
“We are now vaccinating about 49,000 doses on a daily basis. And we have the capacity to maintain this acceleration of our vaccine rollout provided our supplies are steady and continue to arrive,” Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said at a press briefing last week.
– The Malaysian Reserve/Bloomberg