Singapore steps back from the ‘New Normal’

·4-min read

SEPTEMBER 26 — So Singapore has re-introduced a slew of Covid-19 restrictions. Once again only groups of two people can dine out and households can receive only two visitors at a time while work from home has gone back to being the default option for offices.

This is in response to the recent spike in cases. Last week, cases consistently exceeded 1,000 a day, and Singapore is seeing more deaths.

There have been two to three Covid-19 deaths a day, the highest Singapore has yet seen but this is with a much larger caseload.

So once again restrictions have been imposed.

Again, this is somewhat frustrating as the government has recently been saying it is moving towards a situation where Covid-19 is endemic — where we live with the disease as we do with flu, dengue, HIV and all manner of other diseases.

Singapore has some of the highest vaccination rates in the world with 80 per cent of the population fully vaccinated. The vaccination clearly reduces the risk of death from Covid-19 and the risk of death from the coronavirus for most younger ages is low even without the vaccine.

This is why the government has recently been making the case for staying open even with a higher caseload. Over the last few weeks, officials have told us we should be prepared to see higher caseloads but that deaths would remain low.

Health officials pointed out that since the dawn of the pandemic, Singapore has seen around 70 deaths from Covid-19 but over 800 deaths from the flu.

Officials argued that opening up further in spite of increasing cases would bring about, at most, a very modest increase in deaths.

Quarantine times for those returning from overseas were reduced and the number of nations on green lists with reduced quarantine was increasing.

Singapore has re-introduced a slew of Covid-19 restrictions. — Nuria Ling/TODAY pic
Singapore has re-introduced a slew of Covid-19 restrictions. — Nuria Ling/TODAY pic

It seemed like a return to something approaching normality was imminent but now we have pulled back. Work from home, groups of two for dining-in... this is far from a normal situation.

This is particularly surprising because the government seemed to be quite clear in its determination to remain open. We were told to expect over 1,000 cases a day and we were told to expect a modest increase in deaths.

Both these things happened as predicted but despite going according to plan, we’ve ended up back in a highly restricted situation. So the question remains: What is the path back to normality?

All this seems particularly incongruous because we can now see countries in Europe, as well as the UK, and USA returning to what looks like normal.

Clubs are open, overseas travel allowed — masks are barely visible in London these days and all restrictions in places like Denmark and the UK have been dropped and yet these countries are less vaccinated and have a less organised tracing system than we do.

So why are we on a different path?

Government officials had begun to argue that we would begin to shift away from emphasising daily cases and use metrics like ICU capacity to determine if more restrictions were needed.

The key danger with Covid-19 is that its high transmission rates can overwhelm hospitals, fill up beds and lead to those with other conditions missing out on treatment.

But last week Singapore still had only a fairly modest number of patients in ICU and or needing oxygen. Around 120 patients needed oxygen, the numbers in ICU were lower still and Singapore has 1,000 ICU beds set aside for Covid-19 patients.

So again, the system seems able to cope so why are we pulling back?

What metrics are we using so that the public and small business, F&B businesses and retail shops can know when more restrictions are likely to come.

A week ago we were heading towards normalcy but now we are not.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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