Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Lawrence Wong at IPS-RSIS Conference on Identity 2021: Gender, political ideology have emerged as tribal markers driving identity politics globally

Lawrence Wong outlines five strategies to prevent tribalism, identity politics taking root in Singapore
By Goh Yan Han, The Straits Times, 23 Nov 2021

Gender and political ideology are among the identity markers, apart from race and religion, that are driving identity politics in societies around the world today, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (Nov 23).

The age-old conflict between national and tribal identities remains one of the most potent driving forces of violence within and between nations, he added.

He said some think that ethnically homogeneous countries are less susceptible to tribal conflicts but "tribe" is not just a matter of ethnicity.

"I have noticed that other aspects of identity have surfaced in our conversations - around gender, sex, or various causes that people feel strongly about," he said.

The minister was speaking at a round-table session on new tribalism and identity politics, and noted that he and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had earlier this year spoken at length on the topic of racial harmony in Singapore.

The conference is organised by the Institute of Policy Studies and S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, with Mr Wong as keynote speaker.

In his speech, he noted that tribalism runs deep in all human societies, and has become more prominent today with a focus on the individual.

Mr Wong acknowledged that there has been a greater emphasis on the culture of self over the last few decades, which has brought about progress in many areas.

This evolution differs from the past, where societies everywhere were generally more cohesive and people were more connected and active in their respective communities.

"In Singapore, we call this the 'kampung spirit'," said Mr Wong.

However, when the sense of self is inflated at the expense of community, the connections between people are weakened, he said. "This leads to loneliness and isolation. And when people feel lonely and alienated, they fall back on defences that are perhaps primeval in our species - they revert to tribes."

The Internet has also made it easier for new tribes to form and organise themselves, but the echo chamber of social media often means that the tribes end up self-selecting information to support and reinforce their own views, he added.

Said Mr Wong: "Tribalism may feel like community. But the two are not the same. Community is about inclusive connections, and it's based on mutual affection. Tribalism is inherently exclusionary, and it's based on mutual hate: 'us' versus 'them', 'friend' vs 'foe'."

Mr Wong listed several examples of recent conflicts around the world that have arisen from identity politics.

These include the culture wars in the West that cut across issues, from abortion rights and voting rights to woke culture and vaccination or mask-wearing.

Mono-ethnic societies have also seen conflicts related to identity politics.

Poland, which is ethnically homogeneous with Poles comprising more than 95 per cent of the population, has seen an intensifying stand-off in recent years between supporters of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights and conservatives who oppose them. Some parts of the country have declared themselves "LGBT-free zones" amid strong resistance from liberals.

The United States, despite its long-cherished melting pot ethos, is seeing greater political polarisation based on ideology and identity.

For example, a growing proportion of Republicans and Democrats view the opposite party in starkly negative terms. Even life-saving public health measures such as mask-wearing and vaccination have become markers of political identities, noted Mr Wong.

He noted that when such tribal identity takes root, it is difficult to achieve any compromise without it seeming like dishonour.

He said: "Every grievance threatens one's self-worth, and every setback a challenge to one's sense of self. So we get a downward spiral: Individualism and self-interest cause tribes to form, each tribe closes ranks upon itself, and politics becomes defined as all-out war among tribes."

Thursday, 18 November 2021

PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Bloomberg New Economy Forum 2021

Singapore easing COVID-19 measures step by step to avoid U-turns, human cost: PM Lee
By Goh Yan Han, The Straits Times, 18 Nov 2021

Singapore has had to change course along its journey in tackling Covid-19, and is trying to persuade its people that it is necessary to accept a few thousand cases a day, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (Nov 17).

And while it will try its best, there will be casualties, mainly old people who will not make it. "It is just the way life is and it is the way influenza and pneumonia and other diseases carry off old folks by the thousands every year. We accept that and we have to manage this going forward without letting it go out of control," he added.

PM Lee was speaking to Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait at a gala dinner at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore on Day 1 of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum.

PM Lee noted that Singapore was trying to reach an end point without paying the high price many other societies have, which got infected before they got vaccinated.

This was also why it was easing up on restrictions "step by step" even as it moved to living with the virus, "without having had to make unsettling U-turns".

Asked if the 61,000 people who are 60 and above who are not yet vaccinated - and hence more vulnerable to the virus - are preventing Singapore opening up further, PM Lee pointed out that they have more than 61,000 relatives and friends and dear ones. "If you just write them off, I do not think you can make those utilitarian calculations. It is a human cost. Just look at what has happened in Britain or in Italy or in America," he said.

"The terrible trauma that society goes through - you have people who are sick, whom you cannot treat, who die waiting for oxygen or waiting for a bed - I would much rather not have to do that."

In changing course, easing restrictions and reopening borders, he noted that trust is critical.

"It is not my logic which persuades people, but they watch you, they listen to you. They either have confidence in you and faith in you or they decide: Well, he sounds good, but I am not following him."

Turning to the issue of political succession, Mr Micklethwait said PM Lee had put two of his potential successors onto the Covid-19 task force to see how they do. Referring to Finance Minister Lawrence Wong and Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, he asked: "It looks a little like Squid Game. Do you have any idea how are they performing? Are you thinking of eliminating them or continuing?"

Squid Game is a popular Netflix drama where contestants compete in games for a tempting prize, but are eliminated or killed along the way. PM Lee said his approach is not to write off any participants.

"I do not have spare. I am not looking for a winner. I am trying to build a team, and the team needs many different skills and many different people to carry a very heavy responsibility of taking Singapore into the next generation, beyond me and my age group of leaders.

"Each makes a contribution. I put them there not as a beauty contest, but because I think they can make a contribution and it is a very important job which needs to be done. If I do not put the best people available on the Covid-19 team, what am I doing with them?"

Mr Micklethwait also asked about plans for a wealth tax, and the Prime Minister said this was an element in a comprehensive revenue system.

"You tax consumption, you tax income, you tax sins, and you should tax wealth, whether in the form of property, ideally wealth in other forms," he said.

He added that Singapore will study this but it needs to find a system of taxation which is progressive and which people will accept as fair.

"Everybody needs to pay some. But if you are able to pay more, well, you should bear a larger burden of the tax. And if you are less well-off, you should enjoy a greater amount of the Government's support schemes and benefits."

But he noted that unlike income inequality, it is more difficult to measure inequality of wealth, which can today be kept in non-fungible tokens or Bitcoin.

"It is not as easy to manage, but it is something which we do want to be worried about because we would like to make sure that each generation starts from as equal a starting point as possible," he said.

Tuesday, 9 November 2021

COVID-19 Patients who are Unvaccinated by Choice must Pay their own Medical Bills from 8 December 2021

COVID-19 patients who choose not to be vaccinated have to foot own medical bills
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 8 Nov 2021

People who are unvaccinated by choice and come down with Covid-19 will have to foot their own medical bills from Dec 8, in a move that Health Minister Ong Ye Kung described as an "important signal" to those who are still holding off on getting their jabs.

Speaking on Monday (Nov 8) during a press conference held by the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19, which he co-chairs, Mr Ong said hospitals would much prefer not having to bill these patients. He urged everyone to get vaccinated if they are eligible.

The change comes as those who are unvaccinated make up the majority of patients who require intensive inpatient care and disproportionately contribute to the strain on Singapore's healthcare resources.

The Government currently foots the full Covid-19 medical bills of all Singaporeans, permanent residents (PRs) and long-term pass holders, other than for those who tested positive or had onset of Covid-19 symptoms within 14 days of arrival in Singapore after overseas travel.

The new billing measure applies only to those who choose not to be vaccinated despite being medically eligible, and who are admitted to hospitals and Covid-19 treatment facilities on or after Dec 8.

Mr Ong said: "Billing will still be based on our current subsidy framework, subject to MediSave use and MediShield Life claims, so it will still be highly supported and highly subsidised."

Those who are ineligible for vaccination, such as children under 12 years old, and those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons will continue to have their bills fully covered by the Government, the task force said.

It noted that the Government's current measure to fully cover Covid-19 medical bills for Singaporeans, PRs and long-term pass holders, apart from those who travelled recently, was to avoid financial concerns adding to public uncertainty when Covid-19 was an emergent and unfamiliar disease.

This approach for Covid-19 bills will continue for the majority of the population here who are vaccinated until the coronavirus situation is more stable, added the task force.

Meanwhile, individuals who are partially vaccinated will not be charged for Covid-19 bills until Dec 31, to allow them time to complete their full regimen of jabs. After this deadline, they will have to foot their own medical bills if they catch Covid-19.

This means that from Jan 1, only Singaporeans, PRs or long-term pass holders who are fully vaccinated and have not recently travelled will have their Covid-19 medical bills fully paid for by the Government.

The task force said that Covid-19 patients who choose not to be vaccinated may still tap regular healthcare financing arrangements to pay for their bills where applicable.

Singapore citizens and PRs may access regular government subsidies and MediShield Life or Integrated Shield plans, while long-term pass holders may tap their usual financing such as private insurance.

Tuesday, 2 November 2021

Workers' Party MP Raeesah Khan admits to lying in Parliament about allegation that police mishandled rape case

WP MP Raeesah Khan referred to committee after admitting she lied to Parliament about sexual assault case
Raeesah Khan should not have shared account with untruths in Parliament: Pritam Singh
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 2 Nov 2021

Workers' Party (WP) MP Raeesah Khan will have to appear before the Committee of Privileges, after she admitted to lying in Parliament about details of a sexual assault case that she alleged was mishandled by the police.

On Monday (Nov 1), she apologised in Parliament to the Singapore Police Force and retracted an anecdote she had shared of the alleged incident.

In explaining why she had made up details of that case, Ms Raeesah, 27, said she lacked the courage to admit that she was part of a support group for women, where the story was shared, as she herself had been a victim of sexual assault at the age of 18.

Leader of the House Indranee Rajah said Ms Raeesah (Sengkang GRC) had lied to Parliament on three occasions, after clarifying details of the matter with the WP MP when she finished her statement.

She raised an official complaint against Ms Raeesah for breaching her parliamentary privilege, and asked for the matter to be referred to the Committee of Privileges, which looks into any complaint alleging breaches of parliamentary privilege. Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin agreed to do so.

Ms Raeesah had told the House during a debate on empowering women on Aug 3 that she had accompanied a 25-year-old rape victim to a police station to make a police report three years ago, and the police officer who interviewed the victim had allegedly made inappropriate comments about her dressing and the fact that she was drinking.

On Monday (Nov 1), she admitted that she had not accompanied the victim to the police station. Instead, she said the victim had shared the account in a support group for women, which Ms Raeesah herself was a part of, and that she did not have the victim's consent to share the story in Parliament.

"I did not share that I was a part of the group, as I did not have the courage to publicly admit that I was part of it. I attended the support group because I myself am a survivor of sexual assault," she said.

Ms Raeesah said she was sexually assaulted as an 18-year-old while studying abroad. The experience continues to traumatise her to this day, she added.

"Unlike the survivor whose anecdote I shared in this House, I did not have the courage to report my own assault. Yet, as a survivor, I wanted so deeply to speak up and also share the account I had heard when speaking on the motion, without revealing my own private experience.

"I should not have shared the survivor's anecdote without her consent, nor should I have said that I accompanied her to the police station when I had not. It was wrong of me to do so."

Ms Raeesah also apologised to the survivor whose story she had shared, Parliament, her Sengkang constituents and residents, the WP, and her family.

Ms Indranee noted that Ms Raeesah had confirmed that did not have any details of the police case and was thus unable to substantiate her allegation when she made her statement in August.

Her actions had resulted in “a cloud hanging over the police” and caused them to devote time and resources to investigate the alleged incident. It also does a “great disservice” to the survivors of sexual assault and rape victims, Ms Indranee added.

In a statement posted on Facebook, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh said Ms Raeesah should not have shared in the House an account that contained untruths.

The WP secretary-general noted that the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act gives an MP significant freedom of speech, to the extent that what is said in Parliament cannot be impeached or questioned outside Parliament.

However, this freedom of speech does not extend to communicating untruthful accounts, even if an MP’s motives are not malicious,” Mr Singh said. “(Ms Raeesah) shared with me that she wanted to set the record straight in Parliament. This was the correct thing to do.”

Ms Indranee said she was raising the complaint to the Committee of Privileges with great reluctance as she had sympathy for Ms Raeesah’s personal circumstances.

“But as Leader of the House, I also have a responsibility and that is to ensure that in this Chamber, all MPs discharge their duties faithfully, accountably and responsibly. Any breaches of privilege have to be dealt with,” she said.

The eight-member Committee of Privileges is chaired by the Speaker of Parliament. Its other members are Ms Indranee, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli, National Development Minister Desmond Lee, Mr Don Wee (Chua Chu Kang GRC) and WP MP Dennis Tan (Hougang).

Ms Indranee said she and Mr Shanmugam would recuse themselves as she had made the complaint, while his ministry was involved.

Under the Parliament (Privileges, Immunities and Powers) Act, Parliament can take action against MPs found to have breached their parliamentary privileges. The punishments include a jail term not extending beyond the current session of Parliament; a fine of up to $50,000; suspension; a reprimand from the Speaker; or any combination of the above.

MPs can also have their privileges and immunities suspended, which means they can be liable to civil proceedings for anything they said in Parliament.

Sunday, 31 October 2021

HDB Prime Location Public Housing (PLH) Model: Keeping public housing in prime locations affordable, accessible and inclusive for Singaporeans

Subsidy clawback, 10-year MOP for new prime location HDB flats to keep them affordable, inclusive
By Michelle Ng, The Straits Times, 27 Oct 2021

Future Housing Board (HDB) flats built in prime, central locations will be subjected to a 10-year minimum occupation period (MOP) and additional subsidies will be clawed back by the Government upon their resale.

These are among the key measures under a new prime location public housing (PLH) model, aimed at keeping prime HDB flats affordable and inclusive, announced by National Development Minister Desmond Lee on Tuesday (Oct 26).

The first Build-to-Order (BTO) project under this model will be located in Rochor and launched next month.

The pool of resale buyers of these prime HDB flats will also be limited to households who earn not more than $14,000 a month and at least one applicant must be a Singapore citizen.

Under the PLH model, fewer flats may be set aside under HDB's Married Child Priority Scheme, which gives priority to applicants whose parents or children live in the same area.

Currently, up to 30 per cent of new flats are set aside under this scheme for families buying a flat for the first time.

At a media briefing on Tuesday, Mr Lee said the new model is to keep public housing in prime locations affordable, accessible and inclusive for Singaporeans, both at the initial purchase and at subsequent resales on the open market.

The PLH model will apply only to future public housing in prime locations and not to existing flat owners.

There will be at least one prime location public housing project launched each year, but the exact proportions will differ year on year, as it depends on site availability and the overall supply of flats across all towns, said Mr Lee.

In order for HDB to launch these prime flats at affordable prices at the BTO stage, it has to provide additional subsidies on top of the those provided for all BTO flats, said Mr Lee.

All subsidies are factored into flat prices when they are launched as BTO flats.

"But the concern is whether this would lead to the lottery effect, excessive windfall gains and whether it would be fair to BTO buyers in other parts of Singapore, who would not get these additional subsidies," he said.

A record number of HDB flats have changed hands for at least $1 million this year.

In the first nine months of this year, there were 174 million-dollar HDB flats, compared with 82 for the whole of last year, which raised eyebrows and set off concerns about home affordability.

They came on the back of a buoyant HDB resale market, in which resale flat prices also hit a record high in the third quarter of this year.

To address these concerns, the Government will claw back additional subsidies provided to PLH flats.

Flat owners will pay a percentage of the resale price to HDB when they resell their home on the open market for the first time, he said.

This will apply only to those who bought the flat from HDB and not to subsequent resale transactions.

The exact percentage will be announced at the launch of the Rochor BTO project next month, which is the first site under the PLH model, and may be adjusted for other projects in the future, he said.

Other prime locations for public housing include the future Greater Southern Waterfront.

However, buyers who want one of these flats on the resale market will have to meet the prevailing eligibility conditions for buying a flat directly from the HDB.

These include having at least one applicant who is a Singapore citizen, meeting the household income ceiling of $14,000 and not holding a private property or sold any in the last 30 months.

Singles above 35 years old will not be allowed to buy these PLH flats. This is in contrast to current rules that do not place limitations on singles above the age of 35 buying resale flats.

"Without such restrictions, the resale prices of these homes in prime locations may rise beyond the reach of many Singaporeans over time," said Mr Lee.

These conditions on the resale pool will also act as safeguards to prevent sellers from adding the subsidy recovery to their asking price in the hopes of trying to maximise gains, he added.

“Buyers will be a circumscribed group of people who meet BTO eligibility requirements, so that means not anyone can buy. And buyers will also have to bear in mind the impositions on subsequent resale on him or her,” he said.

“So that will ensure that the moderated market for the prime location public housing flats is functional.”

To ensure buyers are genuinely buying the flat to live in, instead of hoping to flip it for a windfall, the MOP for prime location HDB flats will be extended to 10 years, up from the current five.

Owners will also not be allowed to rent out their whole flat at any point in time, even after the MOP is over.

These conditions will apply to all flat owners who purchase BTO and resale flats under the PLH model.

Sunday, 24 October 2021

Living with COVID-19: New domestic, border measures announced on 23 October 2021

Singapore cannot lock down indefinitely but also cannot 'simply let go and let things rip' in COVID-19 fight: PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Sue-Ann Tan, The Straits Times, 23 Oct 2021

New measures were announced on Saturday (Oct 23) by the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 to help Singapore live with the Covid-19 pandemic.

The announcements came after the task force said on Wednesday that the tighter curbs currently in place - including restricting group sizes for dining in to two people - will be extended for a month till Nov 21.

The new measures are:

1. Only fully vaccinated employees can return to workplaces from next year

From Jan 1, 2022, only employees who are fully vaccinated, or have recovered from Covid-19 within the past 270 days, can return to the workplace.

Unvaccinated employees will not be allowed to return to the workplace unless they have tested negative for Covid-19 before returning, and they will need to pay for the costs of these tests, MOH said.

This should be a pre-event test at an MOH-approved Covid-19 test provider, and must be valid for the duration that the employees are required to be present at the workplace.

2. Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine to be included in the national vaccination programme

The Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine will be included in the national vaccination programme, following the Health Sciences Authority's interim authorisation of the vaccine under the Pandemic Special Access Route (PSAR).

All individuals who have received two doses of the Sinovac vaccine will be regarded as fully vaccinated for four months after the second dose, or Dec 31 this year, whichever is later.

However, the full regime for Sinovac should include three doses, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, with the third dose given 90 days after the second.

The Sinovac vaccine will be administered for free from the Ministry of Health (MOH)-assigned vaccination centre at Raffles City Convention Centre, on top of the 11 selected Public Health Preparedness Clinics and private clinics that have already been approved to provide the vaccine.

MOH will also offer the three-dose primary series regime of Sinovac under the programme to those who have not completed their full course of vaccination, including people who had only received one or two doses of Sinovac previously.

But Sinovac will not be offered as a booster for people who had already completed two doses of an mRNA vaccine (Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty and Moderna) and did not develop allergies or severe adverse reactions.

These measures take into account the relatively lower vaccine efficacy of Sinovac compared with mRNA vaccines, as recommended by the Expert Committee on Covid-19 Vaccination, MOH explained.

The vaccine has also not been approved for general use for individuals aged 12 to 17 years. But for those in this age band who are medically ineligible to complete a full two-dose regime of the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty vaccine, MOH will offer a three-dose primary series using Sinovac under a dedicated public health programme.

3. Concessions for those medically ineligible for vaccination

MOH will make a special concession to exempt some people from the vaccination-differentiated measures, if they are certified to be medically ineligible for all vaccines under the national vaccination programme.

This means they will be able to enter premises such as shopping malls and hawker centres and participate in some activities from Nov 1.

More details on the medical criteria and timeline for this exemption will be provided later.

4. Pregnant Covid-19 patients can recover at home

The Home Recovery Programme, which is now the safe and default option for the majority of Covid-19 patients, will be extended to pregnant Covid-19 patients. They must also be fully vaccinated, and are below 35 years old and less than 26 weeks pregnant.

These patients would be clinically assessed at selected hospitals to be suitable for home recovery before commencing the programme.

5. Fully vaccinated seniors to resume community activities

The People's Association will organise activities for fully vaccinated seniors according to prevailing safe management measures.

These activities for fully vaccinated seniors will be held in a safe manner at specific sites and dedicated timings, MOH said.

The People's Association will release more details at a later date.

MOH also announced updates to Singapore's border measures. They are:

1. More fully vaccinated domestic workers can enter the country

MOH will facilitate the entry of more fully vaccinated domestic workers to meet urgent domestic and caregiving needs of local households, while regulating the numbers carefully as the global situation evolves, it said.

2. Review of countries or region categories

All travellers with a 14-day travel history to Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka prior to departure to Singapore will be allowed to enter and transit through Singapore from 11.59pm on Oct 26.

Saturday, 9 October 2021

PM Lee Hsien Loong's address on COVID-19 situation, path to new normal, 9 October 2021

Treat COVID-19 seriously, but no need to live in fear: PM Lee

Zero-COVID strategy no longer feasible due to highly infectious Delta variant

Singapore's COVID-19 'new normal' expected to be 3 to 6 months away

Travel restrictions eased, health processes simplified, as Singapore stays the course on living with COVID-19

COVID-19 quarantine orders scrapped, simpler rules to be rolled out in Singapore from 11 October 2021

PM Lee Hsien Loong, ministers thank healthcare workers for bearing brunt of pandemic

COVID-19 booster shots for those 30 and above, and healthcare, front-line workers

Singapore must press on with strategy of living with COVID-19 and not be paralysed by fear: PM Lee
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2021

Travel restrictions will be eased and health processes simplified as Singapore stays the course on living with Covid-19, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

The Republic will press on with its strategy of living with the virus, with a "new normal" expected to be between three and six months away. Right now, the crucial step is to update mindsets on the virus, PM Lee said in his ninth address to the nation since the pandemic began.

This means treating Covid-19 as a serious adversary without living in fear of it, and adjusting healthcare and recovery measures to prioritise those at greatest risk of severe illness, he told the nation in an address on Saturday (Oct 9).

Singapore will also "drastically simplify" its healthcare protocols, said Mr Lee, who acknowledged people's concerns and frustrations about keeping up with new policies and changes to measures.

"No more complicated flow charts. People must be clear what to do if they test positive, or if they come into contact with someone who is infected," he said in the live broadcast.

To this end, home recovery will become the default for almost everyone in Singapore from Sunday, except the very youngest and oldest of patients and for those above 50 who are unvaccinated, the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 announced on Saturday.

Testing and isolation protocols have also been streamlined to three pathways that the task force said will apply to the vast majority of cases. The revised protocols and simplified time-based discharge approach - most patients will automatically exit home isolation after 10 days - will take effect from Monday.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that authorities had reset these Covid-19 protocols as the Delta variant causes high viral loads early in an infection that can be caught by a rapid test, and balanced against the unsustainability of restricting large numbers of people for prolonged periods to try and catch every case.

“A system like that is less watertight than today’s quarantine system, but it can significantly and substantively manage the risk,” he said at a multi-ministry taskforce press conference that followed Mr Lee’s address.

Unlike last year, when the consequences of infection were serious, widespread vaccination here has meant that more than 98 per cent of cases now have mild or no symptoms and can recover well at home just like if they had contracted the flu, said Mr Lee.

Only 2 per cent or fewer developed serious illness, while 0.2 per cent, or two out of every thousand cases - have died or needed intensive care unit (ICU) treatment, he noted.

"In other words, Covid-19 is no longer a dangerous disease for most of us," he said.

Now, the threat of Covid-19 is mainly to seniors - those aged 60 and above who are not vaccinated, or 80 and above even if they are vaccinated, said Mr Lee.

A disproportionate number of cases with poor outcomes were unvaccinated seniors: While they account for barely 1.5 per cent of the population, they made up two-thirds of cases that needed ICU care or died.

"The remaining one-third were vaccinated seniors," said Mr Lee.

"We feel every single loss keenly. My deepest sympathies and condolences to all the families."

Mr Lee urged unvaccinated elders to get their vaccines, while those who have been vaccinated should go for their booster shots. The third jab reduces a senior's risk of severe infection by more than 10 times, he said.

"Or to put it in another way, to the virus, the booster shot makes a vaccinated 80-year-old look like a much younger vaccinated 50-plus year-old," he said.

Noting that 142 people have died so far with six deaths on Friday alone, Singapore’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak said vaccination remains the key strategy in reducing the risk of developing severe infection.

“This is a sad statistic and we should not be numb to the fact that when a person develops a severe Covid-19 infection, he does have a high risk of dying from that infection,” he said.

From Saturday, the booster shots regime will be expanded to healthcare and front-line workers, staff in settings such as aged homes, and to people aged 30 and above.

Living with Covid-19 also means reconnecting Singapore with the world and global supply chains so as to preserve Singapore's hub status, said Mr Lee.

As part of this reopening, the Government announced on Saturday that Singapore will allow quarantine-free travel to eight more countries - including the United States, Britain and Canada - from later this month and South Korea from Nov 15.

Minister for Transport S Iswaran who was also at the press conference said that together with Brunei and Germany (which are already on the scheme), the 11 countries account for about a tenth of pre-Covid-19 annual passenger arrivals at Changi Airport.

“While still a far cry from where we were pre-Covid, this is a significant step in the reopening of our borders and crucial to reclaiming and rebuilding our status as an international aviation hub with global connectivity,” he said.

The next few months will be trying as daily cases continue to rise for a few more weeks, but the surge will level off hopefully within a month, said Mr Lee.

Everyone has a part to play in ensuring that the healthcare system does not get overwhelmed, he added. This includes cutting back on social activities, and not rushing to hospitals' accident and emergency (A&E) departments if they have mild symptoms, so that bed capacity is reserved for those who need it most.

"Unity of purpose and hearts is crucial to get us through the next few months," he stressed.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said that while some have called for a faster relaxation of the rules, others have expressed concerns about the health and well-being of their elders and the safety of their young children.

He said the Government is taking all these considerations to heart as it develops Singapore’s Covid-19 response and strategy.

“We want to ensure that we will always have the ability to provide medical care to anyone who falls seriously ill from Covid-19,” he said. “And that’s why we will ease out of our stabilisation measures in a calibrated manner.”

People will know when the new normal has been reached, said Mr Lee: Restrictions will largely be lifted, with only light measures in place; daily new cases will be stable at hundreds a day without growing; and hospitals will be able to go back to business as usual.

"We are in a much better position now, than a year or even six months ago," he said.

"Sometimes it may not feel like it, but we are making steady progress towards the new normal."

How much money do households in Singapore need to achieve a basic standard of living?

Family of four needs $6,426 a month for basic standard of living in Singapore: Minimum Income Standards Study 2021
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 8 Oct 2021

A family of four, with parents, a pre-teen and a teenager, needs at least $6,426 a month to afford a basic standard of living, a study on household budgets has found.

A family of two, with a single parent and a toddler or pre-schooler, meanwhile, needs $3,218 a month.

But a substantial and concerning proportion of working households in Singapore - about 30 per cent - do not earn enough to meet these needs.

The study was done by National University of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (LKYSPP) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU).

Its findings were released in the report Minimum Income Standards For Households In Singapore (2021), and were disputed by the Ministry of Finance (MOF) in a statement on Friday (Oct 8).

LKYSPP senior research fellow Ng Kok Hoe and NTU head of sociology Teo You Yenn, two of the study's six authors, said that the study on how much people need to achieve a basic standard of living in Singapore has exposed some gaps in society.

Using the figures as a benchmark and comparing them against existing income data as well as public schemes show that some segments of the population are not able to meet their basic needs, added Dr Ng at an event presenting the study's findings held over videoconferencing platform Zoom.

But the MOF said "the conclusions may not be an accurate reflection of basic needs largely due to assumptions used", pointing to the limitations of the Minimum Income Standards (MIS) approach used.

The study defined standard of living as one in which Singaporeans can afford housing, food and clothing, and also have opportunities for education, employment and work-life balance, as well as access to healthcare.

It should also enable a sense of belonging, respect, security and independence and afford the choice to participate in social activities and cultural and religious practices.

Based on this definition that emerged from focus group discussions, researchers then convened more focus groups for people to come up with lists of items people from different stages of life will need.

The researchers went to shops or websites mentioned by the participants to find out the real price of each item. These lists were then combined to form the budget of various configurations of households.

Dr Ng said a critical pillar of the MIS approach is to ensure that each focus group is economically diverse, so the budgets resulting from the discussions are not just for particular segments, say the rich or poor. Instead, these budgets apply universally for all Singaporeans, he added.

A total of 196 participants of different genders, ethnicity and socio-economic backgrounds took part in 24 focus group discussions.