Next few months 'trying' as Singapore tries to live with COVID-19: Lee Hsien Loong

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. (PHOTO: Screenshot from TV speech)

SINGAPORE — Living with COVID-19 has not been a smooth and easy journey, and the next few months will be trying, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during a televised speech on Saturday (9 October).

He added that daily cases are expected to continue rising for some weeks, and as cases grow, so will the number of elderly cases.

"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," Lee said during the speech.

"Our doctors and nurses do their best for every patient. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, not every seriously ill patient will make it through. Sadly, quite a few will succumb, just like with pneumonia. Every year more than 4,000 people die of pneumonia in Singapore, mostly elderly and with other underlying illnesses.

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

Lee urged the unvaccinated elderly to get their vaccination jabs as soon as possible, while those who are already vaccinated should get their booster shots to strengthen their immunity.

"If you are a vaccinated senior, taking the booster reduces your risk of severe infection by more than 10 times. 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.

"Seniors themselves should take extra precautions. By all means go out to exercise and get fresh air, but please cut back on makan, kopi and beer sessions with your friends and kakis. This will lower your exposure to the virus. We want you to stay well."

Vaccination of children under 12 likely by early next year

Lee also said that Singapore will likely begin vaccination of children under the age of 12 by early next year, as soon as vaccines are approved for them and experts are satisfied that they are safe.

"Vaccines have not yet been approved for such young children. As cases grow, parents are understandably anxious about their children catching the virus," he said.

"Although the data shows that children with COVID-19 seldom get seriously ill, parents are still worried. We are closely tracking the progress of vaccine trials on children in the US."

Yet, amid the concerns over the rising number of infections, Lee said that Singapore cannot stay locked down and closed off indefinitely.

"It would not work, and it would be very costly. We would be unable to resume our lives, participate in social activities, open our borders, and revive our economy," he added.

"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. Therefore, we concluded a few months ago that a “Zero COVID” strategy was no longer feasible."

Three months, maybe even six, to get to 'new normal': PM Lee

While Lee said that it has been a long campaign against COVID-19 and "the war continues", he said that Singapore is in a much better position now, compared to a year or even six months ago.

"Sometimes it may not feel like it, but we are making steady progress towards the new normal," he added.. 

"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."

Lee said that Singapore will know when it has reached a "new normal" when it can ease off restrictions and have only minor safe management measures in place.

"Cases remain stable, perhaps around hundreds a day, but not growing. When our hospitals can go back to business as usual; when we can resume doing the things we used to do, and see crowds again without getting worried or feeling strange," he said.

A few countries have reached this state such as in Europe, but they have "paid for it dearly", with the loss of many lives along the way. 

"It will take us at least three months, and perhaps as long as six months to get this new normal. 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."

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