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Extremely contagious Delta form, the Zero-Covid approach is no longer feasible: PM Lee

Updated: Oct 24, 2023

Addressing the nation on the Covid-19 situation, PM Lee set out why a zero-Covid strategy is no longer feasible.

Given how contagious the Delta strain is, a zero-Covid-19 policy is no longer viable, according to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who laid out the country's predicament and what has changed.

With vaccines, the virus has become a mild, manageable sickness for the majority of individuals, he continued, advising people to go about their everyday lives, taking essential precautions and adhering to safe management methods.

The key to this transformation is changing people's mentality so that they respect the virus but are not paralyzed by fear, Mr Lee said in a speech to the country.

Recognizing Singaporeans' concerns, Mr Lee stated that many have found it difficult to keep up with new rules and procedures. He expressed empathy for their fears and frustrations.

At the outset of the epidemic last year, the country was dealing with an unknown disease, and officials modified their tactics as they learned more about the virus.

"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."

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 should expect to see a lot of Covid-19 instances for a long period, he added.

However, Singapore cannot remain shut down and cut off permanently, as this would be extremely costly.

Singaporeans would be unable to resume their lives, engage in social activities, open borders, or revitalize 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."

Living with Covid-19 has not been an easy experience.

When Singapore attained an 80% vaccination rate in August, the heightened alert limitations were removed, with the assumption that cases would rise as more people resumed activities and interacted with one another.

However, because of how contagious the Delta variant was, the numbers increased more quickly than expected.

While the healthcare system was initially able to cope, there were concerns that it would be severely strained. It has, as have the medical staff present, he noted.

As the overall number of instances increases exponentially, so will the number of serious cases.

When the number of instances gets extremely big, even 2% of a very large number will result in a huge number of patients requiring hospital and ICU (intensive care unit) beds. Our healthcare system would quickly become overburdened.

That is why we strengthened our limits last month. Its purpose was to halt the increase in cases so that we could reduce the load on our healthcare personnel and stabilize our healthcare system.

Mr Lee went on to say that the authorities are using this time to expand healthcare capacity and strengthen case management in order to better identify Covid-19 patients with mild symptoms who can recover at home, ensure proper care for those who fall seriously, and continue to attend to the many non-Covid-19 patients who also have urgent medical needs.

Singapore is already over two weeks into the month-long stabilisation phase, which saw tougher limits imposed from September 27 to October 24 to prevent the spread of Covid-19 in the community and buy time for the healthcare system and new procedures, such as the home recovery program, to stabilize.

Dining in and social events were limited to two individuals once again, and working from home became the normal arrangement.

The Prime Minister emphasized that Singapore had one of the lowest Covid-19 mortality rates in the world, as well as one of the highest immunization rates, at over 85 percent of the population, because to Singaporeans' confidence and collaboration.

According to him, this has substantially improved Singaporeans' resistance to the infection.

The great majority of local cases (more than 98%) have minimal or no symptoms. Only 2% or fewer had more serious disease, and only 0.2 percent - or two out of every thousand patients - died or required 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."

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