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A view of a near-empty section in a mall when Singapore returned to a heightened alert phase in July 2021 due to a spike in coronavirus infections. ― TODAY pic
A view of a near-empty section in a mall when Singapore returned to a heightened alert phase in July 2021 due to a spike in coronavirus infections. ― TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Sept 7 — The government will not rule out a return to a heightened alert phase or imposing a circuit breaker like it did last year if the number of Covid-19 cases admitted to intensive care units (ICUs) goes up sharply, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday (September 6).

The number of infections has gone up when more activities were allowed to resume recently, but it is not the absolute numbers that are of concern — it is the “reproduction rate”, or the rate at which the coronavirus is spreading.

Wong said that the reproduction rate is more than one and cases are doubling every week. “And if we continue on this trajectory of infection. It means we could have 1,000 (daily) cases in two weeks, or possibly 2,000 (daily) cases in a month.”

Speaking to the media, the co-chair of the national Covid-19 task force said that the government is doing its best to refrain from placing stricter controls and it is trying to slow the virus’ transmission through aggressive contact tracing and more widespread Covid-19 testing.

“We are also studying the possibility of boosters for younger adults. And this will not only protect them but also help to slow down transmission and reduce the reproduction rate.

 “With all of these measures, we hope that we can help to slow down transmission without having to go back to a heightened alert or the circuit breaker.

“As I said last week, these are last-resort measures and we will try our best to refrain from using them, but we should not rule them out entirely.

“And if, despite our best efforts, we continue to see, or we see serious cases in ICU or those needing oxygen going up sharply, then we may have no choice but to adopt a more tightened posture.”

The circuit breaker was imposed in April and May last year when people movement was restricted and non-essential businesses had to halt operations.

The heightened alert was in May this year and again in July, before the government relaxed infection control measures in August to allow vaccinated people to have greater freedom to dine out and take part in other activities, for instance.

Wong added that when the government embarked on its reopening plans for the country, it was clear that it would do so “in a controlled manner” with a focus on the number of severe illnesses caused by the coronavirus and the number of patients requiring oxygen support in ICUs.

The number of serious cases has remained stable, but the Government is concerned given the recent acceleration in infection rates.

The experience of other countries has shown that the number of ICU cases will “naturally follow” a sharp spike in overall cases, Wong pointed out.

This is why it is “redoubling” its efforts on testing, he said, adding that it is not planning to open the country up further at this stage.

Wong also appealed to the public to do their part and cut down on social interactions so that the Government will not have to impose social restrictions again.

“We are calling on everyone to do their part and exercise social responsibility. In that spirit, we are asking people to scale back non-essential social interactions.

“Yes, you can go out to dine but scale back during this period because every effort counts, and if all of us do our part by getting tested regularly, by scaling back interactions, we will be able to slow down the transmission.”

Booster shots for seniors

Wong said that invitations for the first group of seniors aged 60 and above to receive their booster shots will be sent out in two weeks’ time.

The task force announced last Friday that seniors who were immunised in the early part of this year and immunocompromised people will be eligible for booster Covid-19 shots this month to ensure that they are sufficiently protected from severe illness when infected. ― TODAY

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