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."

Zero-COVID strategy no longer feasible due to highly infectious Delta variant: PM Lee
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2021

A zero-Covid-19 strategy is no longer feasible given how infectious the Delta variant is, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong as he set out the country’s situation and what has changed.

With vaccinations, the virus has become a mild, treatable disease for most, he added, urging people to go about their daily activities, taking necessary precautions and complying with safe management measures.

Key to this shift is updating mindsets to respect the virus but not be paralysed by fear, Mr Lee said in an address to the nation on Saturday (Oct 9).

Acknowledging Singaporeans' anxieties, Mr Lee said many have found it difficult to keep up with new policies and changes to measures. He said he understood their concerns and frustrations.

At the start of the outbreak last year, the nation was dealing with an unknown disease and adjusted its strategy as the authorities learned more about the virus, he said.

"Our original approach was to do our utmost to prevent Singaporeans from being exposed to Covid-19. We tightened safe management measures (SMMs) as much as necessary, to bring cases down to a very low level. We judged this the best way to minimise serious illness and deaths," he said, adding that zero-Covid-19 was the right strategy then and helped avert the huge loss of lives that many countries saw.

"Our population was not yet vaccinated, people had little or no immunity against Covid-19. The consequences of catching the virus were serious. But because the virus was not so infectious then, our measures could work to break the chain of transmission. The strategy succeeded."

But the emergence of the Delta variant has put Singapore in a changed situation, he said. This variant is highly infectious and has spread all over the world, and even with the whole population vaccinated, Singapore will not be able to stamp it out through lockdowns and safe management measures.

Almost every country has accepted this reality, he added.

Mr Lee pointed out that the majority of Singaporeans have never experienced an infection and are Covid-19-naive. This means the natural population immunity is low - even if people have been vaccinated, they are still at some risk of getting infected.

This is why Singaporeans must be prepared to see quite many Covid-19 cases for some time to come, he said.

Yet Singapore cannot stay locked down and closed off indefinitely, he added, as this would be very costly.

Singaporeans would be unable to resume their lives, participate in social activities, open the borders and revive the economy.

"Each time we tighten up, businesses are further disrupted, workers lose jobs, children are deprived of a proper childhood and school life.

"Families are separated for even longer, especially families with loved ones overseas, and extended families who have not been able to come together.

"All these cause psychological and emotional strain, and mental fatigue for Singaporeans and everyone else here with us, including our migrant workers."

He acknowledged that living with Covid-19 has not been a smooth and easy journey.

When Singapore reached an 80 per cent vaccination rate in August, it eased the heightened alert restrictions with the expectation that cases would go up as more people resumed activities and interacted with one another.

But the numbers went up more sharply than anticipated because of how infectious the Delta variant was, he said.

While the healthcare system was initially able to cope, there were worries that it would come under significant strain. It has, and so have medical personnel here, he added.

"As total cases grow exponentially, the number of serious cases will also grow in step. And when the number of cases grows very large, even 2 per cent of a very large number will translate to many patients needing hospital and ICU (intensive care unit) beds. Our healthcare system would rapidly be overwhelmed.

"That is why last month we tightened up our restrictions. It was to slow down the growth in cases, so that we can ease the burden on our healthcare workers and stabilise our healthcare system."

Mr Lee added that the authorities are using this time to further expand healthcare capacity and strengthen its case management, so as to better identify Covid-19 patients with mild symptoms who can recover at home, make sure they can care properly for those who fall seriously, as well as continue to attend to the many non-Covid-19 patients who also have urgent medical needs.

Singapore is now almost two weeks into the month-long stabilisation phase, which saw tighter restrictions put in place from Sept 27 to Oct 24 to slow the community spread of Covid-19 and buy time for the healthcare system and new protocols, such as the home recovery scheme, to stabilise.

Dining in and social gatherings were capped once more at two people, and working from home was made the default arrangement.

The Prime Minister noted that Singapore has one of the lowest Covid-19 death rates in the world - and with Singaporeans' trust and cooperation, also one of the highest vaccination rates at almost 85 per cent of the population.

This has greatly enhanced Singaporeans' protection against the virus, he said.

The vast majority of local cases - more than 98 per cent - have mild or no symptoms. Only 2 per cent or less developed more serious illness, and of these, 0.2 per cent - or just two out of every thousand cases - died or needed ICU treatment.

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

He called for a fundamental updating of mindsets. Singaporeans should respect Covid-19, but must not be paralysed by fear, he said.

"Let us go about our daily activities as normally as possible, taking necessary precautions and complying with SMMs. With vaccinations, Covid-19 has become a treatable, mild disease for most of us. This is especially if you are young, or even if you are not so young but fully vaccinated."

Singapore's COVID-19 'new normal' expected to be 3 to 6 months away: PM Lee
By Justin Ong, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2021

Singapore is entering a trying period in its fight against Covid-19, with daily cases expected to continue rising for some weeks, the healthcare system remaining under pressure, and the Delta virus variant slowed but not stopped.

But with each passing day, Singapore is getting stronger, more resilient, and more ready to live with the virus in its midst - and this "new normal" is anywhere from three to six months away, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Saturday (Oct 9).

He was giving a speech to the nation on the Covid-19 situation.

Daily new caseloads in Singapore have stayed above the 3,000 mark for four days straight, and around 1,000 since mid-September.

Although almost all cases are asymptomatic or mild, deaths have been reported for 19 days in a row, taking the toll to 142 as at Friday.

PM Lee noted that the current surge would level off at some point, with infections starting to dip hopefully within a month or so.

And as pressure on the healthcare system eases, restrictions can be relaxed - but cautiously, to avoid starting a new wave again.

Singapore is almost halfway through a month-long stabilisation phase from Sept 27 to Oct 25, with reinstated restrictions on gathering sizes and working from home becoming the default again.

"We must protect our healthcare system and workers at all costs, in order to get through the pandemic safely," said PM Lee.

"Let me say this to all our healthcare workers: I know the enormous stress you are under, and the heavy load that you bear. You have been fighting so hard, for so long.

"Now we are going through perhaps the most difficult phase of our journey. But it will not last indefinitely. After this surge peaks, things should get better," he added.

"We are doing all we can to protect you and the healthcare system as we go through this wave. If we don't protect you, you can't protect us."

"On behalf of all Singaporeans, I thank you all. We are with you, and will give you our fullest support."

PM Lee also urged Singaporeans to be the first line of defence, and help protect the hospitals and healthcare workers standing as the last line of defence.

The population can do this by continuing to abide by safe management measures, cutting back on social activities, getting their vaccinations and booster shots, and self-testing regularly.

"If you are infected, take up home recovery unless you have serious illness, or vulnerable family members. Please don't rush to the A&E (accident and emergency department) with mild symptoms," he said.

"Let us reserve hospital capacity for those who need it most - serious Covid-19 cases as well as others with serious illnesses."

Earlier, PM Lee said Singapore would build up its healthcare facilities to provide the seriously ill with the medical care they need.

As part of living with Covid-19, Singapore must also connect back to the world and continue to reopen borders safely, he added.

As he sketched out the longer-term path forward, PM Lee noted that while the war and long campaign against Covid-19 continues, Singapore is in a much better position than it was a year or six months ago.

He last addressed the nation on Covid-19 in May. Then, he said Singapore was heading towards a new normal where people live with the virus with the help of high vaccination rates and frequent testing.

The population in Singapore was 83 per cent fully vaccinated as at Oct 7.

"Sometimes it may not feel like it, but we are making steady progress towards the new normal," said PM Lee on Saturday.

"After this surge stabilises, we may still see future surges, especially if new variants emerge. We may have to tap on the brakes again if cases again grow too fast, to protect our healthcare system and healthcare workers.

"But we will be better able to cope with future surges. Our capacity and processes continue to improve. As more people are exposed to the virus and recover, our immunity levels will increase. Covid-19 will spread less quickly among us," he added.

Singapore will know it is in the new normal when it can ease restrictions, have light safe management measures in place, and have a stable daily caseload perhaps in the hundreds.

Living in a new normal will also mean that hospitals can go back to business as usual, and Singaporeans can resume doing the things they used to do, and see crowds again without getting worried or feeling strange, said PM Lee.

"Covid-19 has surprised us many times before, and may yet surprise us again. But get there we will, in a safe and careful manner, with no one left behind to fend for themselves, and with as few casualties as possible along the way," he declared.

PM Lee reiterated that everyone's cooperation would be needed to put the pandemic behind, and hopefully soon.

"We have the resources, the determination, and the courage to get through this crisis," he said.

"The pandemic has brought out the best in Singaporeans. We have stayed united and resolute despite the difficulties.

"Let's keep that up, and continue working together to complete the journey towards Covid-resilience," he concluded.

PM Lee Hsien Loong, ministers thank healthcare workers for bearing brunt of pandemic
By Clara Lock, Travel Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2021

With Singapore going through what may be the most difficult phase of its Covid-19 journey, healthcare workers have been put under great stress, acknowledged Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Saturday (Oct 9).

Pledging full support for them as he gave updates about the Covid-19 situation here, he said: "We are doing all we can to protect you and the healthcare system as we go through this wave.

"If we don't protect you, you can't protect us. On behalf of all Singaporeans, I thank you all. We are with you, and will give you our fullest support."

A programme to offer healthcare workers booster doses of the Covid-19 vaccine was rolled out on Saturday amid a recent surge in Covid-19 infections here that have put hospitals, nurses and doctors under strain.

In the past week alone, Singapore recorded more than 3,000 daily cases on four straight days.

PM Lee said: '"We must protect our healthcare system and workers at all costs, in order to get through the pandemic safely."

The ministers who co-chair the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic here also paid tribute to healthcare workers during a press conference on Saturday, noting that they have borne the brunt of the pandemic.

Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong said the first two weeks of the stabilisation phase, which kicked in at the end of September, had slowed down the rate of transmission of Covid-19 and given a much needed breather to healthcare workers.

He thanked all front-liners in the hospitals and healthcare system, adding: "We truly appreciate your contributions, hard work, and sacrifices, and we will do everything we can to support you during this difficult time."

Restrictions on some activities were tightened at the end of September to slow down the increase in cases, so as to buy time to ramp up medical facilities and manpower to handle the outbreaks.

Healthcare professionals and laypeople registered with the Singapore Healthcare Corps, as well as inactive nurses registered with the Singapore Nursing Board have also have been called on by the Ministry of Health to bolster the healthcare workforce.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, another co-chairman of the task force, encouraged people to ease the load on healthcare workers, asking those who contract Covid-19 to recover at home and avoid going to the hospital unless they are seriously ill.

"Don't leave them to carry the burden as the last line of defence," he said.

He also urged people to cut down on social activities, get their booster shots, and encouraged seniors to get vaccinated.

Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong said healthcare and front-line workers, along with their families, have had a stressful time over the past 20 months, adding: "We deeply appreciate your efforts throughout this crisis."

PM Lee assured healthcare workers that things would likely improve after the current surge peaks.

"You have been fighting so hard, for so long. Now we are going through perhaps the most difficult phase of our journey. But it will not last indefinitely," he said.

COVID-19 booster shots for those 30 and above, and healthcare, front-line workers from 9 October 2021
By Cheryl Tan, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2021

From Saturday (Oct 9), healthcare workers, front-line workers and those aged 30 and above will be invited to take Covid-19 vaccine booster shots.

They will join those aged 50 to 59 who have been receiving their booster shots from Oct 3.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said the booster jabs will be administered to these groups of people who have received their two-dose regimen at least six months ago.

"Our healthcare and front-line workers are more likely to come into regular contact with Covid-19 cases in the course of their work and are at greater risk of infection," it said.

In a statement, the Expert Committee for Covid-19 Vaccination said healthcare and frontline workers have a 1.4 to two times greater risk of being infected amid the current surge of Covid-19 cases.

“Furthermore, they may care for vulnerable persons such as the elderly and persons with medical conditions,” it added.

Those in institutions such as prisons and residential care facilities will also get booster jabs, said MOH, as these places are indoor settings with higher human density and thus predisposed to large outbreaks of Covid-19.

"We are also working with various institutions to progressively roll out booster vaccinations to eligible persons in institutionalised settings," the ministry added.

In addition, expanding the booster programme to those aged 30 and above will help to raise the overall level of protection in the population, MOH said.

The expert committee noted while the two-dose vaccine continues “to provide excellent protection against severe disease”, there is now evidence of waning protection against infection over time.

Therefore, the booster doses can help to reduce the risk of infection and Covid-19 transmission.

Speaking at a press conference by the multi-ministry Covid-19 task force, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said data has shown that giving those aged between 30 to 49 a booster jab will enhance their protection against infection and severe disease.

The risk of severe side effects is low and not different compared to the first two doses, he added.

From Saturday, people in this group will receive a text message with a personalised booking link on the mobile number that they had earlier registered for their first two doses, to book an appointment at this website.

They can get their booster dose at any vaccination centre or participating Public Health Preparedness Clinic (PHPC).

As at Thursday (Oct 7), almost 372,000 individuals have received their booster dose.

About 57 per cent of people aged 50 to 59 and 72 per cent of seniors aged 60 and above have either booked an appointment or already received their booster dose.

In addition, MOH recommended that those who are moderately and severely immunocompromised receive a third dose of the mRNA vaccine two months after their second dose.

These include people with the following conditions:

- Transplant patients on immunosuppressive therapy, including solid organ and allogenic stem cell transplants

- Cancer patients on active treatment with chemotherapy and immunosuppressive therapy

- Blood cancers, such as lymphoma and leukaemia

- Immunosuppressive treatment for non-cancer conditions

- End-stage kidney disease

- Advanced or untreated HIV

These people can take their booster dose six months after the third dose.

COVID-19 deaths likely to go up, but booster shots can cut risk of severe infection to seniors by more than 10 times
By Justin Ong, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2021

The number of Covid-19 related deaths is likely to continue to go up over the next few weeks and months, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Saturday (Oct 9), as he urged seniors to get their jabs if they have not had them.

Those who have had their shots should get their booster shots to reduce their risk of severe infection, he added.

"If you are a vaccinated senior, taking the booster reduces your 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."

A disproportionate number of the 142 deaths as at Friday were unvaccinated seniors, who account for 1.5 per cent of the population, but made up two-thirds of those who needed intensive care unit care or died, he said.

In his speech to the nation on the coronavirus situation, PM Lee said that every single loss of life to Covid-19 is felt keenly, expressing his deepest sympathies and condolences to all the families of the dead.

Despite the best efforts of doctors and nurses, not every seriously ill patient will make it through, and quite a few will succumb, just like with pneumonia, he added.

"Every year more than 4,000 people die of pneumonia, mostly elderly and with other underlying illnesses," he said.

"Over the next few weeks and months, we will likely see the number of Covid-19-related deaths continue to go up."

Nearly all of the fatalities - which Singapore has managed to keep very low so far - were elderly, aged 60 and above and with preexisting medical conditions.

The population was 83 per cent fully inoculated as at Thursday.

"With more Covid-19 cases, already most of us have either met someone who has gotten Covid-19, or know someone who does. Sooner or later, every one of us will meet the virus," said PM Lee.

"This means all the elderly will meet the virus too. And for them, the risk is very real."

The virus poses a danger to seniors aged 60 and above if they are not vaccinated, or 80 and above even if vaccinated, he added, noting that as cases grow, so will the number of elderly infected.

"If we reach 5,000 Covid-19 cases a day, every day we can expect around 100 to become seriously ill - not a small number," he said.

Daily new infection numbers in Singapore have been above the 3,000 mark for four days straight, and around 1,000 since mid-September.

The Prime Minister said there are several things Singaporeans and the elderly can do to protect themselves and bring numbers down.

The authorities will continue to persuade the unvaccinated elderly to get their jabs, and, for those already vaccinated, to get booster shots to strengthen their immunity.

He called on seniors to take extra precautions by cutting back on dining in sessions with friends to lower their exposure to the virus.

"By all means go out to exercise and get fresh air… We want you to stay well."

PM Lee said younger folks living with seniors could also help by cutting down on their own social interactions and testing themselves regularly.

He noted that another segment of the population that some are concerned about is those under 12 years old.

Vaccines have not yet been approved for this group, and with cases growing, parents are understandably anxious about their children catching the virus, said PM Lee.

"Though the data shows that children with Covid-19 seldom get seriously ill, parents are still worried."

He added that Singapore is closely tracking the progress of vaccine trials on children in the United States.

Last month, Pfizer and BioNTech said trial results showed that their vaccine was safe and produced a robust immune response in children aged five to 11.

Singapore's multi-ministry task force handling the pandemic said in August that vaccination of children aged below 12 should start early next year, after safety and efficacy aspects have been studied.

PM Lee reiterated this on Saturday, saying: "We will start vaccinating children as soon as vaccines are approved for them, and our experts are satisfied that they are safe."

COVID-19 quarantine orders scrapped, simpler rules to be rolled out in Singapore from 11 October 2021
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2021

A simpler set of rules for Covid-19 patients and their close contacts will be rolled out from Monday (Oct 11), bringing an end to quarantine orders and leave of absence notices.

The aim is to make healthcare protocols easier to understand and reduce the burden on government resources, including phone operators and quarantine officers.

The new rules override some existing ones, and come with built-in expiration dates, meaning that people will be able to resume daily life after a preset amount of time rather than waiting for official test results.

They also mean that Singapore's Covid-19 strategy will now rely heavily on antigen rapid tests (ARTs), which typically produce results in 15 minutes and can be self-administered.

Results from polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which are processed in laboratories, take six hours to up to 12 hours for clinically urgent cases.

Singapore needs to update its healthcare protocols - developed at a time when the country was aiming for zero Covid-19 cases - for several reasons, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Saturday.

First, it has become confusing and frustrating for most people to follow the rules.

The Delta variant, which is more infectious and results in higher viral loads, has also changed the country’s risk calculations and enabled it to replace strict quarantine rules with an ART testing regime which is able to pick up most cases.

"A system like that is less watertight than today's system, but it can significantly and substantively manage the risk," he said at a press conference by the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic.

"If we restrict large numbers of people every day over prolonged periods to weed out the last tail risk, it is actually not sustainable."

Under the new protocols, there will only be three sets of rules: people who have symptoms and test positive; those with no symptoms but test positive; and close contacts of a positive case.

Mild symptoms include cough, runny nose, sore throat, body ache, diarrhoea and headache, with or without fever. Severe symptoms include shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure and loss of speech or movement.

People with symptoms

If a person has Covid-19 symptoms, he should see a doctor who will decide if he needs a test. If he tests positive for Covid-19, he should stay home and wait for instructions from the Ministry of Health (MOH).

He can return to normal life after 10 days if he is fully vaccinated, or 14 days if he is not. Children under 12, who cannot get vaccinated, can also be discharged after 10 days.

Everyone will get an electronic discharge memo at the end of the isolation period.

At present, people can be discharged three days earlier if they take a PCR test showing that they are negative.

This will now be removed for simplicity, the Health Ministry said.

No symptoms but tests positive

A person without symptoms is only required to self-isolate for 72 hours. If he tests negative after this time period, he can resume his daily activities.

However, if he tests positive again, he should test himself every day until he gets a negative result.

He does not need to see a doctor at all, unless he develops symptoms such as a high fever or breathlessness.

People who test positive but show no symptoms can continue working from home.

If working from home is not possible, their employee should treat their absence as paid outpatient sick leave or hospitalisation leave, even though they have no medical certificate.

They should not be asked to take no-pay leave. If they test negative after 72 hours, they can return to work.

Close contacts of Covid-19 case

Quarantine orders and leave of absence notices will no longer be issued to close contacts of a Covid-19 case.

Instead, they will get a health risk warning, and will have to collect ART kits from vending machines and monitor their own health for seven days.

They are free to leave their homes as long as they test negative before going out that day.

A total of 200 vending machines have been set up islandwide, with each machine able to dispense up to six ART kits at one time.

Some 7.5 million ART kits have been set aside for this purpose.

As these health risk warnings will replace quarantine, the quarantine allowance of $100 a day will no longer be given out.

But official quarantine facilities will still be made available for those who have difficulty isolating themselves at home.

People already following previous protocols

Covid-19 patients who are already on the home recovery scheme will have to finish their 10- or 14-day isolation, depending on their vaccination status.

People serving quarantine orders now will no longer need an exit PCR test. They are allowed to go out for the day if they test negative using an ART kit. At the end of day seven of their quarantine, they will be considered as having finished quarantine.

Those unvaccinated against COVID-19 can no longer eat at hawker centres, enter malls, from 13 October 2021
By Adeline Tan, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2021

Unvaccinated individuals will no longer be able to dine in, go to shopping malls, hawker centres and coffee shops, or visit attractions from next Wednesday (Oct 13).

However, unvaccinated children who are 12 years old or below can still do so.

The Ministry of Health said on Saturday (Oct 9) that this is a move to protect unvaccinated individuals in the community and to reduce the strain on the healthcare system.

Those who have recovered from Covid-19, or have a valid negative pre-event test result, are also considered fully vaccinated.

Speaking at a press conference by the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 on Saturday (Oct 9), Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong said: “There have been a few settings frequently visited by a significant proportion of infected individuals, including those who are unvaccinated, who later on fell very ill.”

He added that such settings include food and beverage (F&B) outlets, retail establishments and shopping centres.

Currently, those who are unvaccinated can dine in at hawker centres and coffee shops. They will no longer be allowed to do so under the new rules kicking in on Wednesday.

Instead, groups of up to only two fully vaccinated people will be allowed to dine in at hawker centres or coffee shops, as well as F&B establishments, MOH said.

“Individuals who do not meet the above criteria can still buy takeaway food,” it added.

Unvaccinated people will also not be allowed to enter shopping malls or large standalone stores from Wednesday. Large standalone supermarkets are exempted.

MOH said businesses that are able to implement the new rules earlier than Wednesday are strongly encouraged to do so.

Singapore to allow quarantine-free travel to 9 more countries, including US, UK
By Toh Ting Wei, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2021

Travellers vaccinated against Covid-19 will be able to fly to nine more countries and return without quarantine in the coming weeks, in the Republic’s biggest move to reopen its borders so far.

Travel to Singapore will also be made easier, with visitors under the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) scheme only needing two Covid-19 swab test in order to enter Singapore, down from the current four.

The two are: a pre-departure and on-arrival polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.

From Oct 19, vaccinated travellers be able to fly to Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Britain and the United States.

The scheme will be extended to South Korea from Nov 15, the Ministry of Transport had said on Friday (Oct 8). Travellers from the nine countries will be able to enter Singapore without quarantine under the VTL scheme.

Transport Minister S Iswaran announced the update to Singapore border measures on Saturday during a press conference by the multi-ministry task force handling the Covid-19 pandemic.

The nine countries are already open to travellers from Singapore, or will be open by the time the VTL starts. This would allow Singapore residents to travel, including for leisure, and return without a Stay-Home Notice requirement.

In a statement, the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) said it made the decision to extend the scheme in a “cautious and step-by-step manner” to reclaim and rebuild Singapore’s status as an international aviation hub with global connectivity.

It said that of the total 1,926 visitors from Germany and Brunei, who as at Oct 8 came in under the VTL scheme, there has only been two imported cases. Both were detected on-arrival.

“With the experience and confidence gained from the VTL for Brunei Darussalam and Germany, we will extend the VTL to nine more countries,” said CAAS.

It said the nine new countries are classified under Category II of the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) border risk classification.

There are four categories in the classification, with countries in Category I deemed to be of the lowest risk of Covid-19 infections, and countries in Category IV deemed to be of the highest risk.

Testing requirements for travellers coming into Singapore under the VTL scheme will be cut from Oct 19 to just a pre-departure test 48 hours before their flight and an on-arrival test.

Travellers will no longer have to take the Covid-19 PCR swab test on Day 3 and Day 7 of their arrival in Singapore.

“The Ministry of Health’s (MOH) public health assessment is that the pre-departure test and on-arrival test provide sufficient safeguards for detecting and isolating imported Covid-19 cases,” said CAAS.

“The removal of the Day 3 and Day 7 PCR tests will help reduce cost and improve convenience for VTL travellers.”

Short-term visitors and long-term pass holders will need to apply for a Vaccinated Travel Pass to enter Singapore under the VTL scheme. But fully vaccinated Singapore citizens and permanent residents will automatically be able to tap the VTL scheme without applying for the pass.

Applications for those looking to travel from South Korea under the VTL will start at 10am on Nov 8, for entry into Singapore on or after Nov 15. Applications for the other eight countries will start from 10am on Oct 12. Travellers will then be able to enter Singapore on or after Oct 19.

All travellers entering Singapore under the VTL will have to comply with a series of requirements.

Effective from Oct 19, VTL travellers must have remained in one or more of the VTL countries in the last 14 consecutive days prior to departure for Singapore.

“If the traveller has been in Singapore within those last 14 days, his/her stay in Singapore can be counted towards fulfilling this 14-day travel history requirement,” said CAAS.

An example of this could be a traveller who plans to leave Singapore on Oct 10, fly to Britain, and travel to France and then Spain, before returning on a VTL flight on Oct 19.

In terms of testing, VTL travellers from overseas will have to test negative in their pre-departure and on-arrival tests. They will have to remain isolated in Singapore until their on-arrival test is confirmed to be negative.

On vaccination, CAAS said all VTL travellers must be fully vaccinated and have proof of it. They have to be vaccinated in a country under the VTL or Singapore.

Travellers entering under the VTL scheme will also have to take designated VTL flights into Singapore. More details about these flights will be announced by airlines soon.

Short-term visitors who require a visa for travel to Singapore must separately obtain a visa. They should do this after receiving approval to enter and before departing for Singapore.

They must also purchase travel insurance, with a minimum coverage of $30,000 for Covid-19-related medical treatment and hospitalisation costs, prior to travel to Singapore.

More details on the VTL requirements into Singapore can be found at this website.

New vaccinated travel lanes will put wind in the sails of travel industry, say agents
By Clara Lock, Travel Correspondent, The Straits Times, 9 Oct 2021

Travel agents are gearing up for a strong finish to 2021 after Singapore announced quarantine-free leisure travel arrangements with nine new countries over the past two days, its biggest move to reopen borders so far.

Fully vaccinated travellers can travel to the United States, Britain, Denmark, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Canada from Oct 19, and to South Korea from Nov 15. This comes on top of existing Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs) with Germany and Brunei. However, the latter has not yet opened its borders to leisure travellers from Singapore.

Those in the travel industry are optimistic about the new destinations, with figures from the Singapore Tourism Board showing that the US, South Korea and Britain were Singapore's eighth, ninth, and 10th largest markets in terms of international visitor arrivals in 2019, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. The top three markets were China, Indonesia and India.

"This is hands down the best news since the pandemic started. I'm confident that it will give the business a huge uplift in sales and bookings again," said Mr Nicholas Lim, Asia CEO of The Travel Corporation (TTC).

TTC owns 40 travel brands including tour company Trafalgar and Uniworld Boutique River Cruises. Prior to the pandemic, Singapore comprised 50 per cent of its bookings from Asia.

Mr Jeremiah Wong, senior marketing communications manager at Chan Brothers Travel, said the bold move to open up more VTLs will spur the recovery of leisure tourism. Pre-pandemic, tours to Europe made up about 35 per cent of the company's outbound packages.

The announcement is timely for those anticipating a white Christmas, with the year-end period a popular time for people in Singapore to travel.

Ms Alicia Seah, director of public relations and communications at Dynasty Travel, said the company has already received inquiries on tours to Europe from families with fully vaccinated teenage children.

As part of the scheme, people can visit multiple VTL destinations in the same trip, a more enticing prospect.

"Initially, when only Germany was open for leisure travel without quarantine, the response was lukewarm, as people wanted more travel options," Ms Seah said.

Before the pandemic, most customers opted for multi-city packages covering two to three destinations over 12 to 16 days. She believes this will remain the case for trips to Europe.

As for South Korea, the company has received inquiries for longer trips, up from five to eight days on average.

Another boon is the number of Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests being reduced from four to two, travel firms said. From Oct 19, travellers entering Singapore need to take only a pre-departure test before their return flight, and another test upon arrival. Subsequent tests on day three and seven are no longer necessary.

"We reckon that this will encourage more travellers to take flights for overseas holidays," said Mr Wong.

Travellers may have to contend with higher prices across the board, however.

Mr Lim said the prices of some TTC tours have gone up by 5 to 10 per cent since 2019 as overseas suppliers raised prices due to the pandemic.

Packages from Dynasty Travel may cost about 15 to 30 per cent more due to smaller group sizes and the cost of Covid-19 tests, Ms Seah said. The company has reduced its maximum group size from 40 to 20, to give travellers peace of mind.

She added that there is a possibility of a spike in flight prices, similar to when the travel bubble with Hong Kong was first announced. Although this did not happen for the VTL with Germany, she said it may occur with South Korea due to the country's proximity.

Even so, travellers are not deterred.

Marketing communications consultant Carolyn Ortega is planning to travel alone to Britain to visit her 19-year-old niece, who is studying modern dance at the Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance near London.

"Her parents won't be able to visit her because they have two other younger children here. I'll bring along her favourite foods from Singapore, including pineapple tarts," said Ms Ortega, who is in her 40s.

She also intends to go to Spain to dine at Michelin-starred restaurant Baga in the southern city of Jaen, as well as at Los Marinos Jose Restaurante, a restaurant known for its red tuna belly cured in salt, located in the coastal city of Malaga.

Mr Aaron Wong, who runs travel website The MileLion, has booked a trip to South Korea at the end of November and is planning another multi-stop itinerary to include as many of the new VTL countries as possible.

He is looking to spend two to three days at each destination to give readers and would-be travellers a sense of the situation on the ground, including restrictions or procedures in place.

"After 20 months of being cooped up, people in Singapore finally have 10 two-way quarantine-free travel options. While VTL travel is not without its pitfalls, it's something most people wouldn't have dreamed of this time last year," he said.


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