Singapore's path forward to a new normal: 10 takeaways from PM Lee's national address

SINGAPORE – Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed the nation on Saturday (Oct 9) on the Covid-19 situation and the path to the new normal.

He set out why a zero-Covid-19 strategy is no longer feasible and how Singapore will press on with its strategy of living with the virus.

Here are 10 key points from his address:

1. Vaccinations an effective ‘safety vest’ against the virus

Singapore has been very successful at getting everyone vaccinated – almost 85 per cent of the population is now fully vaccinated, and the data has shown that this has sharply reduced the risk of serious illness here, said PM Lee. Only 2 per cent of cases have developed serious illness, while 0.2 per cent – two cases of every thousand – have died or needed intensive care unit (ICU) treatment.

2. Delta variant has changed the situation

While Singapore’s original “zero-Covid-19” strategy had avoided huge loss of life, the highly infectious Delta variant means that even with the whole population vaccinated, Singapore will not be able to stamp out cases through lockdowns and safe management measures (SMMs). Even if new cases are kept down with stringent SMMs, cases will surge again as soon as they are eased, said PM Lee, especially since most in Singapore have never been infected. This is why people must be prepared to see quite a number of cases for some time to come.

3. Each person should be ‘first line of defence’ against the virus

To protect the hospitals and healthcare workers, Mr Lee urged people not to rush to hospitals’ accident and emergency (A&E) departments if they have mild symptoms. Hospital capacity needs to be reserved for those who need it most, such as serious Covid-19 cases and those with serious illnesses. Everyone should also play their part by cutting back on social activities and observe SMMs to slow the spread of the virus, and get their vaccinations if they have not done so.

4. Daily cases likely to rise for a few more weeks, with surge tapering off possibly in a month

The healthcare system will likely stay under pressure for the next few weeks as daily cases continue to rise, but cases will eventually decline. From the experience of other countries, this could hopefully be within a month or so, said Mr Lee. Restrictions can then be relaxed as the pressure on the healthcare system eases, but this will have to be done cautiously to avoid setting off a new wave of infections.

5. Steady progress being made in Singapore’s journey to living with Covid-19

Singapore is making steady progress to reaching the new normal of Covid-19 resilience, even if sometimes it may not feel like it, said Mr Lee. While it may have to tap the brakes again if cases grow too fast once more, after this wave it will be better able to cope with future surges as healthcare capacity and processes keep improving, and more are exposed to the virus and recover, raising immunity levels.

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6. Singapore will press on to live with Covid-19, but updated mindsets are needed

With Covid-19 now a treatable and mild disease with vaccinations, people should respect the virus but not live in paralysis and fear because of it, said Mr Lee. People should go on with their daily lives while taking necessary precautions. That 98 per cent of patients are able to recover from the illness by themselves – just as with the flu – is why Singapore has shifted to rely heavily on home recovery, freeing up hospital beds for those at high risk of becoming seriously ill.

7. No more complicated Covid-19 flow charts

Since Covid-19 is now a manageable disease, the Government will drastically simplify health measures so that everyone is clear on what to do if they test positive or come into contact with someone who is infected. This includes testing as necessary, to self-isolate should the test be positive and to consult a doctor if there are symptoms. This is to keep everyone safe, especially the elderly and vulnerable, said Mr Lee.

8. ‘New normal’ three to six months away

People will know the new normal has been reached when restrictions are largely lifted and there are only light measures in place; daily new cases remain stable at hundreds a day without growing; and hospitals will be able to go back to business as usual. Some countries such as several in Europe have already reached this state but paid dearly in lives lost along the way, noted Mr Lee. Singapore will get there in a careful and safe manner, with as few casualties as possible.

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9. Elderly unvaccinated worries me most: PM

Of the 142 deaths from Covid-19 here so far, nearly all were elderly with pre-existing medical conditions. Unvaccinated seniors are barely 1.5 per cent of the population, yet make up a disproportionate two-thirds of those who needed ICU care or died, said Mr Lee. The remaining one-third were vaccinated seniors. The Government will continue trying hard to persuade the elderly to get vaccinated and to get booster shots, said Mr Lee. The data shows that a booster shot reduces a senior’s risk of severe infection by more than 10 times, making the risk profile of an 80-year-old look like that of a 50-plus-year-old, he noted.

10. Vaccinations for children likely to start early next year

Singapore is closely tracking the progress of vaccine trials on children in the United States. Vaccinations for children here will start as soon as they approved for children under 12 and experts here are satisfied they are safe. This is likely to be early next year, said Mr Lee.

Read next: Highlights of PM Lee’s speech

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