betty June 23, 2022

SINGAPORE – It is unlikely that Singapore will tighten Covid-19 rules across the board in response to the recent upswing in virus cases, public health experts told The Straits Times.

This is especially since the country is in a good position to deal with the next wave and any rollback will have a significant impact on the economy and society.

“We would need good justification,” said infectious diseases expert Dale Fisher on Wednesday (June 22).

“It’s really hard to see a situation where you’d want to resume blanket measures, as they have a social and economic impact. You would want to make sure it is necessary.”

Professor Fisher, a senior consultant at the National University Hospital, added that tightening measures would be necessary only if a new variant – which people have no immunity against – emerged, or if a completely new virus surfaced.

Singapore has seen an uptick in Covid-19 cases driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants, which are more transmissible but have not been linked to higher hospitalisation and death rates.

On Tuesday, the Health Ministry said these variants accounted for around 30 per cent of all virus cases in the past week, up from 17 per cent the week before.

A total of 7,109 new cases were reported that day, making for a 23 per cent week-on-week increase in community infections.

Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at the National University of Singapore, noted that these variants have been spreading across multiple countries over the past two months, with both North America and Europe seeing a surge in local transmissions.

“The proliferation of Covid-19 infections internationally that are caused by the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants will certainly spill over to Singapore, given that the country is an international air and trading hub,” he said.

Asked if increased travel during the June holiday period is behind the recent increase in Covid-19 cases, Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the Saw Swee Hock School, said this was unlikely to be the case.

While travel may have brought these subvariants into Singapore, their spread is a result of inherently greater transmissibility and lower effective immunity against them compared with Omicron, he said.

The experts reiterated that hospital capacity – especially bed space in the intensive care unit – will impact the country’s decision to reinstate safe management measures.

In any case, Singapore is more prepared to handle any surges, given that it successfully coped with the Omicron wave, they said.

“Now, more of us are doubly protected because of being vaccinated and having been infected during that wave,” Prof Cook said. “So, the proportion of infections getting hospitalised should be lower and hence more manageable by the healthcare system.”