Tuesday, 1 June 2021

Singapore planning for a new normal of living with endemic COVID-19: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Test, Trace and Vaccinate.

Plans for new normal with people living with virus in their midst
PM Lee sketches scenario where Singaporeans can go about their daily lives with an endemic disease
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2021

Singapore is planning for a new normal, where its people can carry on with their lives while the virus is in their midst, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

Addressing the nation in a live broadcast, PM Lee sketched out a scenario where people will be able to go to work and meet their friends, take part in large-scale events such as concerts, and eventually even go around without masks outdoors.

Singapore is still "some ways off from this happy state, but we are heading in the right direction", said PM Lee.

The country will get there if people continue to work together, such as by keeping up vaccination rates, taking annual booster shots and getting tested for Covid-19 often.

Before that, Singapore must raise its game and adjust its strategies in the next chapter of the fight to deal with the more infectious variants of the coronavirus that have emerged, PM Lee said as he outlined the nation's adjusted three-pronged strategy.

This means people have to get used to routinely being tested for the virus at different settings such as offices and shopping malls, with such tests set to get used more proactively and extensively.

The other two parts of the strategy are casting a wider net during contact tracing to isolate close contacts more quickly, and an accelerated national vaccination programme that prioritises first-dose vaccinations.

"If we stay united and continue to work together, we will be able to progressively open up and achieve our aim," he said.

While the global pandemic will eventually subside, Covid-19 is likely to become an endemic disease that is not fully eradicated among humans, said PM Lee.

This means that Singapore must expect to see small outbreaks of the disease here from time to time, he added.

"Our aim must be to keep the community as a whole safe, while accepting that some people may get infected every now and then."

The way Covid-19 will be managed will then be closer to the way the common flu or dengue fever is tackled, through public health measures and personal precautions.

As in the case of the flu, regular vaccinations could be part of the strategy, he said.

In the new normal, testing for Covid-19 will also be more frequent, but it will be fast and easy, he added.

For instance, suitable tests can be rapidly deployed before a football game or a wedding reception, providing assurance to participants that the event is Covid-19-safe.

Those whose occupations involve close contact with many people that could result in superspreading events will also be tested more routinely, said PM Lee. These include cabbies, bus drivers, fitness instructors and teachers, alongside those who are already on rostered routine testing such as construction workers and those who work at shipyards, air and sea ports.

Different Covid-19 tests that are now available include antigen rapid tests, saliva tests, breathalysers and even DIY kits that can soon be bought over the counter, PM Lee noted.

Living with endemic Covid-19 also means the country does not completely close its borders, he added.

"We need food, essential supplies, workers, business and other travellers to keep on flowing. We must stay connected to the world, with effective safeguards and border restrictions to keep Singaporeans safe," he said.

"We will not be able to prevent some infected persons from slipping through from time to time. But as long as our population is mostly vaccinated, we should be able to trace, isolate and treat the cases that pop up, and prevent a severe and disastrous outbreak."

Singapore's priority now is to get through the pandemic and position itself strongly for the future even as the virus continues to rage around it, said PM Lee.

He pledged that the country will emerge tougher and more confident than before, having experienced and overcome Covid-19 together as one nation.

"In this new normal, the countries which are united, disciplined and put in place sensible safeguards will be able to reopen their economies, reconnect to the rest of the world (to) grow and prosper," said PM Lee.

"Singapore will be among these countries."

Singapore steps up vaccine drive and testing
TESTING: More routine and large-scale; DIY test kits will also be available soon. CONTACT TRACING: Wider and more aggressive ring-fencing of close contacts. VACCINATION: All eligible residents expected to have one jab by National Day
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant News Editor, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2021

Singapore will ramp up its pace of vaccination, and both test for and contact-trace Covid-19 cases more quickly and extensively going forward, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday about the country's adjusted strategy to deal with more infectious variants.

From today, students can begin to make bookings to get their shots as early as on Thursday, with priority given to the graduating cohorts for O, N and A levels, as well as special needs students, followed by those 12 years and above.

The plan is for all eligible residents to get at least their first jab by National Day, said PM Lee, who stressed the importance of vaccination as a cornerstone of transiting to a new normal where people can go about their daily lives even with the virus in their midst.

The June holidays will be used to vaccinate the more than 400,000 students here, and four additional vaccination centres will be set up by next Monday at the three Institutes of Technical Education and the Raffles City Convention Centre.

Once it has vaccinated students, Singapore will move on around the middle of this month to vaccinate the final remaining group: adults aged 39 and below. Singaporeans in this group will get a two-week priority window to book their appointments first, given the size of this group, before opening up to the rest who want to be vaccinated.

The nation is on track to bring the current outbreak under control and to ease tightened restrictions after June 13, provided there is no super-spreader event or large cluster, said PM Lee in a national address from the Istana yesterday.

"We will know for sure in another week or so," he said. "Meanwhile, I count on everyone to keep up our efforts and stay vigilant."

Elaborating on the current situation in a ministerial task force press conference later, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that community cases have come down in the past week to 136 cases, compared with the week immediately after heightened alert measures took effect when there were 182 cases.

A major part of the strategy to fighting the virus is testing of persons with possible exposure so as to quickly detect and isolate those who become infected, said Mr Ong.

This will complement more aggressive contact tracing, where the household contacts of someone linked directly to an infected case will be isolated immediately, even before they test positive.

Singapore tested an average of 76,500 individuals daily in the second half of last month, with close to 40 special testing operations mounted across the island such as in housing blocks, malls and Changi Airport.

Self-testing may also be routine in the new normal, while the authorities implement more regular testing, including more widespread use of antigen rapid tests that can give a result in half an hour.

More "fast and easy" tests will be piloted and deployed, such as breathalysers at the Causeway and airport, and rapid tests in university hostels, and for events like weddings, said Mr Ong.

Self-administered test kits which are less uncomfortable and easier to use than polymerase chain reaction swab tests will also soon be available to buy over the counter at pharmacies, added PM Lee. These will supplement other Covid-19 tests that are now available like saliva tests and wastewater surveillance, and are in line with Singapore's strategy to test more liberally and widely to detect cases quickly, he emphasised.

Frequent and fast testing is crucial if Singapore is to reach a new normal where Covid-19 does not dominate Singaporeans' lives, said PM Lee, as Covid-19 is likely to become endemic even after the pandemic subsides.

With vaccinations, booster shots and periodic testing, people can go to work and school, meet friends and family and even participate in large-scale events, he said.

Visitors will return while Singaporeans will travel again to countries where the disease is under control, and masks can even be optional outdoors, PM Lee said.

"In this new normal, we will have to learn to carry on with our lives even with the virus in our midst," he said. "Our aim must be to keep the community as a whole safe, while accepting that some people may get infected every now and then."

With a population that is mostly vaccinated, Singapore will be able to trace, isolate and treat the cases that pop up without a disastrous outbreak, he added.

The Republic will be among the countries that emerge from the pandemic with reopened economies and reconnected to the rest of the world, able to grow and prosper, said PM Lee.

"Our collective discipline and social responsibility have served us well, and taken us thus far," he said. "Let us go the distance."

COVID-19 measures could be eased after June 13 if situation improves further
New community cases have fallen and Singapore is on track to control outbreak, says PM Lee
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2021

Singapore should be able to relax tightened restrictions on social gatherings after June 13 if the Covid-19 situation continues to improve and there are fewer community cases, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

But the country is unlikely to return to phase three of its reopening immediately. Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said any relaxation of measures will have to be done gradually - in a "controlled and calibrated manner".

Addressing the nation in a live broadcast, PM Lee pointed out that the number of new cases reported daily has dropped since the country went on heightened alert to combat the virus' spread.

Singapore should be on track to bring the outbreak under control, barring another super-spreader event or big cluster, he said.

"We will know for sure in another week or so. Meanwhile, I count on everyone to keep up our efforts and stay vigilant," PM Lee added.

This means working from home if possible and going out only when necessary, as well as seeing a doctor immediately if unwell - even if one has been vaccinated.

On May 16, the country tightened Covid-19 restrictions to stamp out a worrying surge of cases in the community. These included capping group sizes for social gatherings to two people - down from eight in phase three - and prohibiting dining in at all eateries.

The measures, implemented after new clusters were detected at places such as Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Changi Airport, are slated to end on June 13.

The multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic, which Mr Wong co-chairs, has assessed that the current suite of measures put in place since May 16 are adequate, said the Ministry of Health.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, who is also co-chair of the task force, noted that there were 182 Covid-19 community cases from May 17 to May 23.

This dipped to 136 cases from May 24 to May 30.

Breaking down the numbers, he said the number of unlinked cases as a proportion of all cases has fallen from 22 per cent in the first week of stricter measures, to 18 per cent in the second week.

"The more we can shift this number away to linked cases - or better still, linked and quarantined cases - the lesser will be the spread of the disease, and the more we can bring the overall number down and suppress this wave of transmission," Mr Ong said at a press conference after PM Lee's speech.

One positive sign is that nearly 70 per cent of new cases announced each day are linked to members within households, rather than to others in the community, he added.

Instances of community transmission are also not linked to "dramatic movements" such as parties, but mundane activities such as grocery shopping, he said.

Apart from the cluster linked to the Jem and Westgate malls, there have been no other major locations over the past 10 days where the virus has spread significantly, Mr Ong added.

"So, all in all, we are nudging in the right direction... But this wave of infection is not over, and we must continue to stay alert and vigilant in order to suppress it further."

Mr Wong reiterated the need for heightened vigilance.

"As much as there is a chance of us relaxing some of the measures after June 13 if things continue to improve, we must also be mentally prepared that we cannot rule out the possibility of further restrictions down the road if they become necessary," he said.

Mr Wong pointed out that there are still unlinked cases every day, each of which could easily be a super spreader.

"We are taking steps to contain the fire and to minimise its spread, but the embers of the fire are still out there, and they can easily spark another major flare-up.

"So the situation is highly fluid, and our assessments are being updated on a daily basis," he said.

The authorities are studying recent cases to find out if there are common patterns of activity that might suggest new areas of risk.

Venues where people gather, or where there are consistent breaches of safe management measures, will also be closed, he said.

Mr Wong commended Singaporeans for playing their part in the fight. "All of you have demonstrated tremendous discipline and social responsibility over the past two to three weeks. So, thank you very much for this tremendous response."

COVID-19 vaccination exercise for Singapore students to begin 1 June 2021
Priority given to those sitting N, O, A levels, equivalent qualifications in 2021
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2021

More than 400,000 students will be invited to book their Covid-19 jabs from today, with priority given to secondary and pre-university students in graduating cohorts, Education Minister Chan Chun Sing announced yesterday.

The roll-out of the vaccination drive for younger people comes amid more cases of schoolchildren getting infected in settings like tuition centres in the recent Covid-19 outbreak, and the earliest vaccine slots will be from Thursday.

Since April 15, more than 70 students in pre-schools, schools and institutes of higher learning have tested positive for the virus, forcing some schools to switch to home-based learning even before nationwide restrictions to curb community spread kicked in on May 16.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday: "The children were not seriously ill, but parents are naturally worried. Therefore, we will take advantage of the June holidays to vaccinate students."

For a start, the exercise will kick off with the 56,000 students who will be sitting the N, O and A levels, as well as other equivalent qualifications such as the International Baccalaureate diploma, in the second half of this year, so they can schedule their vaccination appointments ahead of the upcoming national exams, the Ministry of Education (MOE) said.

Over the next two weeks, the invitations will be progressively extended to other full-time students, including those in madrasahs and special education (SPED) schools.

Students who are 18 and above will receive an SMS containing a unique link for them to book a slot for the first dose of the vaccine at any of the vaccination centres around Singapore. The second dose will be given around six to eight weeks later.

For children under 18, who will need parental consent to take the jabs, the SMS invitations will be sent to their parents or guardians. Those below 13 will have to be accompanied by their parents or guardians during their jab.

While Singapore offers both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, only those aged 18 and above will be given a choice between the two. This is because the Moderna jab has not been approved for use with the younger age group.

Those aged between 12 and 17 will be offered only the Pfizer jab, which was recently cleared for use for those aged 12 to 15 following an evaluation by the Health Sciences Authority.

To address parents' questions and concerns about the vaccines, MOE will be partnering with the Ministry of Health to organise webinars for them, said Mr Chan.

Meanwhile, four dedicated MOE vaccination centres will be set up from next Monday to support the vaccination roll-out for students. They include three centres at the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) College campuses in Ang Mo Kio, Choa Chu Kang and Simei, and one at the Raffles City Convention Centre.

The ITE centres will be able to administer 1,600 doses of the vaccine a day, while the Raffles City centre can do 2,000 doses a day.

ITE will arrange for its students to take their shots on campus, and the Ministry of Health will send mobile vaccination teams to Sped schools as the students may find it challenging to visit a vaccination site.

Schools will also look into alternative vaccination arrangements for those who need extra support when schools reopen after the June holidays, including providing transport to the vaccination centres, MOE said.

The vaccination exercise for students is estimated to be completed by August, if all students who are eligible make an appointment to take their jabs.

Walk-in vaccination service for seniors above 60, no booking required: PM Lee
By Justin Ong, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2021

Seniors in Singapore who are above 60 years old will be able to walk into any vaccination centre and get their Covid-19 jabs on the spot, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

There will be no need for this group to register or book an appointment in advance.

"We will make the process even more convenient for you... Just turn up at a vaccination centre and you will be jabbed," he added as he announced efforts to speed up Singapore's vaccination exercise.

PM Lee's update on Singapore's strategy in the next phase of managing the pandemic came in a televised address to the nation.

Singapore's director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, said at a press conference later that about 73 per cent of Singaporeans over 60 have booked their appointments or received their vaccinations.

But PM Lee said that despite this "excellent" response, 280,000 seniors have yet to book a slot, and urged them to come forward to be vaccinated as soon as possible.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a press release that while all 40 vaccination centres, such as those in community centres, will accept walk-ins for this age group, polyclinics would not be able to do so because of their limited capacity.

Seniors who have trouble getting around can request to have their jabs at home.

As at last Wednesday, 24 individuals had had their vaccinations at home.

Reiterating this option for home vaccination, PM Lee said people can contact the Silver Generation Office under the Agency for Integrated Care, and a doctor and nurse will come to their homes to administer the shot.

"For those with elderly parents or relatives, please encourage and persuade your old folks to get vaccinated," said the Prime Minister, who is 69.

MOH, in its release, described vaccination as a key enabler for reopening. "Its ability to help us re-open safely can be felt only when we achieve a high level of population coverage for vaccination," said the ministry. "Hence, we urge everyone to be vaccinated when it is offered to you."

Safety of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine for teens similar to results reported for adults
By Clara Chong, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2021

The safety and efficacy of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine among those aged 12 to 16 years have been found to be consistent with the results reported in the adult vaccinated population.

Based on the ongoing phase three studies that involve nearly 2,300 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 16, there was a very high vaccine efficacy in the vaccinated group, Singapore director of medical services Kenneth Mak said at a virtual multi-ministry task force press conference yesterday.

There were no Covid-19 infections being reported in this group compared with the 16 cases of infection in the unvaccinated control group, Associate Professor Mak said. "And this is a result consistent with the results reported in the adult vaccinated population."

The safety analysis from the study also showed that within the period of follow-up, which was at least two months, adverse effects were not common, and were generally mild. The safety profile of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine was, in fact, very similar to that of other vaccines normally offered to children, Prof Mak added.

"Children generally have a stronger immune system compared to adults, and they may experience a slightly higher incidence of minor effects like fever, injection site pain, tiredness, and headaches compared to adults. And this is common... for children from all types of vaccines that they receive, not just the Pfizer vaccine," said Prof Mak.

"These reactions will resolve within an average of one to two days. In fact, these reactions demonstrate that their immune system is functioning well and responding to the vaccines."

Hence, the Ministry of Health is confident that the vaccination can be offered to those between 12 and 16 years, protecting them from getting infected, though it may not prevent all infections.

This is the same position adopted by other countries, such as the United States, where more than six million between the ages of 12 and 18 have been vaccinated since approval was granted by the US Food and Drug Administration, Prof Mak said.

"We'll be watching very closely the experience of others, in the US, in Israel, and it will guide our policy even as we start our own programme to offer vaccinations to our schoolchildren."

Vaccinating children also carries the secondary benefit of reducing the risk that others within the same household will be exposed to and infected with the virus, Prof Mak said.

Children with a history of depression or anxiety should be first assessed by their doctors to ensure that their condition is stable before vaccination, he said.

Those 39 and below can register for vaccines from mid-June
By Justin Ong, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2021

Young adults aged 39 and below should be able to start getting Covid-19 jabs from the middle of this month, if vaccine supplies continue to arrive as planned.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) yesterday said Singapore citizens will be invited to register their interest and make appointments for their vaccinations two weeks before bookings are opened to others in this "very big" age group.

In an address broadcast live to the nation, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore has received further confirmation of faster vaccine deliveries over the next two months, and can further boost its vaccination programme with the latest supply schedule.

"We can offer the vaccine to everyone, even sooner than we expected," he added.

PM Lee noted that nearly four in 10 residents have received at least one jab, and the target is to get two-thirds of residents vaccinated with at least the first dose by early next month.

At a subsequent press conference, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said more than four million doses of the vaccine have been given, with over 2.2 million individuals receiving at least the first dose.

MOH said more than 1.7 million individuals have got their second dose and completed the full regimen.

Still, PM Lee stressed there was a need to vaccinate more people, and faster, as part of Singapore's fight against the coronavirus.

"We've made good progress since vaccinations started in December," he said. "Our healthcare and front-line workers, and the majority of those 45 and above, have already received at least their first dose. These are the ones more at risk from Covid-19."

Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak said more than 87 per cent of eligible healthcare workers have booked or got vaccinations, while the proportion of essential workers in other sectors getting jabs is "also high".

About 72 per cent of eligible individuals aged 45 to 59 and about 60 per cent of those aged 40 to 44 have either booked or received jabs, with vaccination rolled out to the latter group since May 19, said MOH.

The Government has moved to prioritise first-dose vaccinations, by scheduling second doses six to eight weeks later instead of three to four weeks. This change in strategy aims to have 400,000 more people given at least one dose by the end of next month, and means that virtually all eligible residents should get at least one dose by early August.

"We want to protect as many Singaporeans as possible, as soon as we can, especially with the new Covid-19 variants," PM Lee added.

"This approach will quickly provide the maximum number of people with good protection, instead of a good number of people with maximum protection."

With Singapore's 40 vaccination centres running smoothly, the constraint is due to vaccine supply.

"This is why we've been working very hard to confirm and speed up deliveries of vaccines from our suppliers," said PM Lee.

He added: "Everyone who is eligible for a vaccination and wants one should be able to get at least their first jab by National Day. Whether you are old or young, please come forward to be vaccinated once it's your turn."

"With the more infectious virus strains, we need as many people as possible to be vaccinated, in order to reach herd immunity, or get close to it. This is the way to make everyone safe and resume more normal activities."

MOH to allow special access to other COVID-19 vaccines through private sector to boost coverage
By Joyce Teo, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2021

The Ministry of Health (MOH) will allow access to other Covid-19 vaccines under the Special Access Route (SAR) in order to enhance the overall vaccination coverage.

These vaccines include the ones from Johnson & Johnson, Oxford-AstraZeneca and Sinopharm, and will be made available through the private healthcare sector.

They are already in use in other countries.

The authorities will allow the SAR to be used for the supply of Covid-19 vaccines that have been approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to be on its emergency-use listing (EUL).

The use of such vaccines should be according to WHO's EUL-approved indications and age groups.

Once the vaccine is included on the list, a private licensed healthcare institution can bring it in to administer to individuals in Singapore, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, co-chair of the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, said at a media conference on Monday (May 31).

This means that China’s Sinovac vaccine, which uses traditional “killed virus” or inactivated vaccine technology, can be used here if it is on the list.

Singapore had received a shipment of the vaccine in February 2021.

"As and when the WHO approves the Sinovac vaccine under its emergency-use list, the licensed healthcare institution can apply to MOH to draw on our existing stock of 200,000 doses to administer to those who wish to have it," said Mr Ong.

The SAR is an existing process for the import and supply of unregistered medicines to address unmet medical needs in unique and special circumstances.

Such use of SAR for these unregistered pandemic vaccines will be time-limited, for the duration of the pandemic.

The vaccines by Johnson & Johnson and Oxford-AstraZena, which are viral vector vaccines, have been linked to reports of extremely rare but potentially life-threatening blood clots. The Sinopharm vaccine is an inactivated vaccine, like Sinovac.

Like all other medicines supplied under the SAR, the doctor administering the vaccine and the patient should discuss the risks and benefits of using vaccines not registered or authorised by the Health Sciences Authority and jointly make an informed decision.

Patients will also need to sign an informed consent form to acknowledge that they have discussed the vaccine with their doctor and accept all responsibility for the risks.

The Government will not subsidise vaccines administered under the SAR, and persons vaccinated under the process will not be eligible for the Vaccine Injury Financial Assistance Programme for Covid-19 Vaccination.

In another move aimed at allowing more people here to be vaccinated, MOH said it is reviewing its current position where those with known anaphylaxis are restricted from taking either of the two mRNA vaccines approved for use here.

These vaccines from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna are very safe and have a very high efficacy rate of 95 per cent and 94 per cent respectively. However, more than 30,000 individuals are unable to take these two vaccines due to medical reasons, said Mr Ong.

He noted that some people want alternate vaccines because of their history of anaphylaxis, which restricts them from taking mRNA vaccines.

The expert committee on Covid-19 vaccination is reviewing the restriction for those who are not allergic to the mRNA vaccine or its components, but other substances like seafood, painkiller and antibiotics.

The review will take about two weeks and is aimed at allowing more people to get the vaccine, Mr Ong said.

Household members of close contacts of a case must self-isolate
An infected person is quite likely to pass virus on to those living in same place, says PM Lee
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2021

Entire households will now be required to self-isolate at home should one member be identified as a close contact of a Covid-19 case.

This precautionary measure is being put in place as Singapore's experience has shown that an infected person is quite likely to pass the virus on to others in the same household, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

If the first-degree contact tests negative - either when they enter quarantine or are no longer under quarantine - the household can be released from isolation.

But if this contact tests positive, Singapore "will have saved precious time by isolating his household members earlier".

"This more aggressive approach will help us to shut down clusters more quickly," PM Lee said in a speech broadcast live to the nation.

Quarantine orders may be served on household members of close contacts. These will be rescinded if the contact tests negative, Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak said at a separate press conference yesterday.

"At this point in time, the thinking is that they can isolate at home," he added. "But it would also depend on the household situation to determine whether it is feasible and possible."

Associate Professor Mak urged Singaporeans to cooperate, stressing that the measures are intended to ensure that any Covid-10 transmission is quickly controlled.

"It is not intended as a means of trying to stifle the freedom of household members to move around," he added.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that nearly 70 per cent of linked new cases every day are due to household transmissions, rather than virus spread within the wider community.

"So, I think this is a worthwhile measure to take," he said.

This addition to Singapore's contact-tracing strategy is meant to help the country track down cases faster and cast its net more widely, equipping it to better deal with more infectious variants of the virus, such as the B1617 strain first detected in India.

The country's contact-tracing capabilities have improved vastly since Covid-19 first hit, said PM Lee.

He added that contact tracers are now working "faster and better" because they have more experience and skills, as well as better tools - including TraceTogether and SafeEntry.

TraceTogether enables contacts to be identified and quarantined within hours rather than days, while the SafeEntry check-in system has helped the authorities identify thousands of people who had visited the same places as infected cases, and inform them to come forward for a free Covid-19 test.

These tests have been offered to those who visited areas that have been linked to Covid-19 clusters - Jem and Westgate malls in Jurong, White Sands mall in Pasir Ris and an NTUC Foodfare outlet in Anchorvale.

PM Lee said: "Because of Singaporeans' self-discipline, public spirit and support of TraceTogether and SafeEntry, we are contact tracing faster and more comprehensively."

Routine, regular testing to be part of new normal
'Fast, easy' tests in places like malls, schools, offices will help keep these places safe: PM Lee
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2021

Routine and regular testing for Covid-19 in places like malls, schools and workplaces will be part of the new normal as Singapore shifts towards testing as part of a preventive strategy.

"Fast and easy" tests will become part of everyday life for people who appear well, to make work, social and community settings safe, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a live national address yesterday.

Testing also needs to be done faster, and more liberally and extensively to quickly isolate and ring-fence infected individuals and their contacts before the virus spreads further, he added.

Tests such as the antigen rapid test (ART), which returns results in about 30 minutes, will be used to cast a wide net in this "fast and easy" test strategy.

"We will not only test to identify infections when a new case pops up. We will also routinely and regularly test people who appear well, in normal work or social or community settings, to make these places safe," said Mr Lee.

Such extensive testing will give Singapore the confidence to resume larger-scale events or gatherings, such as religious services, football games, concerts and wedding receptions, as participants can be assured that these events are Covid-19 safe.

"Therefore, you should expect routine, large-scale, fast and simple testing to be part of our new normal," he said.

Testing also has to be conducted more widely, noted Mr Lee, given how the coronavirus has mutated to become more transmissible.

"With faster, cheaper tests, we can do routine testing at more workplaces, like offices, restaurants and shopping malls," said Mr Lee. "We can also routinely test individuals whose occupations involve close contact with many people, and could result in superspreading events."

Taxi drivers and bus captains, physiotherapists, masseurs, stage performers, sports and fitness instructors and educators are among those who could be tested regularly.

Mr Lee said this would reassure their customers, patients and students, and enable them to work safely even with Covid-19 in circulation.

The Ministry of Health said yesterday that pilot programmes using ARTs on a large scale in places like student hostels will be rolled out here progressively. It will also work with CapitaLand to run pilots at one to two selected malls for tenants and people who work there.

While less accurate than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests in diagnosing Covid-19 patients, ARTs are cheaper, faster and more convenient to administer.

They are also being piloted for use in regular surveillance testing programmes for workers in dorms, construction sites, the airport and selected marine shipyards. This is in addition to the PCR-based rostered routine testing that these workers continue to be required to take.

"This will enable us to expand the scale of testing in the wider population, allowing us to identify potential infections earlier and to trigger public health actions sooner to stem further spread," the ministry said.

MOH also encouraged all workplaces and employers to adopt regular testing using such alternative tests to keep their staff and customers safe.

Those whose rapid test returns as positive will need to take a PCR test at a Swab and Send Home Public Health Preparedness Clinic or Regional Screening Centre to confirm if they have Covid-19, said MOH. They are required to self-isolate until they receive a negative PCR test result, the ministry added.

At a virtual press conference yesterday, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that about 40 special testing operations have been conducted over the past month to detect and slow down the spread of Covid-19 here.

Mr Ong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic, also revealed that an average of more than 55,000 PCR tests and ARTs per day were conducted here in the second half of last month.

ARTs have been rolled out to almost all public health preparedness clinics and all polyclinics, said Mr Ong. He added that there are plans to expand this capacity and deploy them at private general practitioner clinics as well.

DIY COVID-19 test kits will soon be available at Singapore pharmacies: PM Lee
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 1 Jun 2021

Do-it-yourself Covid-19 test kits will soon be available at pharmacies here as Singapore ramps up testing to detect the disease more quickly, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

These DIY test kits will be simple to use and not so uncomfortable, added PM Lee on Monday (May 31) during a live address.

The kits will be the latest in Singapore's variety of coronavirus testing options, which include swab tests such as the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and the antigen rapid tests (ART).

He said: "These alternatives to PCR tests help us detect and isolate people quickly when they are most infectious. This will be a big help in slowing down the spread of Covid-19."

PCR tests are the most accurate, but usually take a day or two for the results to be known. The less accurate ART returns results in about 30 minutes and is used heavily for pre-event testing.

PM Lee said that people will be able to purchase these test kits over the counter, if they are worried that they may have Covid-19 and want to put their mind at ease.

Front-line workers can also administer these tests on their own, if they wish to test themselves frequently or even daily, he added.

PM Lee added that the Covid-19 breathalyser tests, which can process results within a minute, are already being used at the Causeway and at Changi Airport.

He noted that many different types of Covid-19 tests have become available, including saliva tests and wastewater surveillance tests. Sniffer dogs are also an option.

"We have been using some of these, and evaluating others, for some time. Each of these new tests is suited to different use cases," he said.

* MOH lifts COVID-19 mRNA vaccine restrictions on those with allergies
Big majority of 32,000 such individuals can get jabs with the restriction lifted from 5 June 2021
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 5 Jun 2021

Individuals with a history of anaphylaxis and allergic reactions to other drugs, food, insect stings or unknown triggers can safely have mRNA vaccines, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said yesterday.

An expert committee on Covid-19 vaccination recommended letting this group of people receive mRNA vaccines, after careful study of data both globally and locally. The previous restriction will be removed from today.

This means that a large majority of the 32,000 individuals who could not be given the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna mRNA vaccines because of medical reasons can now receive them under the national programme, the ministry said.

But a minority who have a history of anaphylaxis or allergic reactions to other vaccines must first be evaluated by an allergist before they can be deemed suitable for the vaccines. These individuals can be referred to an allergist for evaluation that is fully subsidised by the Government.

Another 2,000 people who developed anaphylaxis or allergic reactions such as hives after receiving the first dose of an mRNA Covid-19 vaccine should not receive an mRNA-based vaccine again, the ministry added.

MOH said it is evaluating and will bring in non-mRNA vaccines more suitable for such individuals to protect them against Covid-19.

It expects to do so before the end of the year after the vaccines are approved by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), and will provide more details when these vaccines are available. It also said those in this group who do not want to wait can get a vaccine through the Special Access Route (SAR).

Non-mRNA vaccines used in vaccination programmes in other countries include those developed by Sinovac and Johnson & Johnson.

Sinovac's vaccine is available through the SAR. It uses a more traditional vaccine technology whereby an inactivated form of the coronavirus is used to trigger an immune response, similar to that used in vaccines for diseases such as polio.

The Johnson & Johnson's viral vector vaccine uses a modified version of a different virus to elicit an immune response.

Yesterday, MOH also announced it would license about 20 private medical centres to tap the Government's existing stock of Sinovac vaccine doses for free to administer the shot. Providers will be allowed to charge patients a fee to cover their costs. The Government will reimburse this fee to any of the 34,000 individuals who opt for Sinovac's vaccine after they were previously rejected from taking mRNA vaccines.

In a separate statement, the expert committee on Covid-19 vaccination said it had adopted a cautious stance in recommending earlier that people should not take mRNA vaccines if they have a history of anaphylaxis - a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction. This was in the light of overseas and local reports of anaphylaxis with the mRNA vaccines in people with a history of allergies, when those vaccines were first introduced.

It noted that local and international data has been reassuring and no safety issues have been found after inoculating people with a history of anaphylaxis to other triggers, such as medicine and food.

It stressed that those with a history of serious allergic reactions to any component of the mRNA Covid-19 vaccine are still not advised to receive it, and those who have an anaphylatic reaction after the first dose should not receive the second dose.

"Non-mRNA vaccines may be authorised for use by HSA and be made available in the future, hence these individuals are advised to wait for these vaccines instead," said the committee.

It added that it will continue reviewing safety data to see if more people who are currently not eligible to receive mRNA vaccines can be inoculated with them.




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