Singapore is on a "knife's edge with Covid-19 cases that could go either way over the next few weeks, but the country cannot completely shutdown its borders as it is not self-sufficient and need to maintain supply lines and global connections to survive, two senior minister told lawmakers on Tuesday. Singapore is now reopening its borders gradually to allow safe travel in limited numbers, with the necessary safeguards in place to ensure public health considerations are addressed.
Singapore has detected 10 different variants among local and imported coronavirus cases till date, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Parliament. The emergence of new Covid-19 variants have challenged existing knowledge on the virulence and transmissibility of Covid-19, he said.
Education minister Lawrence Wong, who is also the co-chair of the multi-ministry task force dealing with Covid-19, said the country is now on a "knife's edge with community case numbers that could go either way over the next few weeks. However, Gan said, "We cannot completely shut our borders…our seaports and airports because Singapore is not self-sufficient in many things and we need to maintain our supply lines and global connections to survive. The virus will then find ways to infiltrate us.
While coronavirus variations are not unexpected, some are of greater concern because of increased transmissibility, severity of illness caused and ability to break through vaccines, he said. The large clusters and rapid transmission of the B16172 Covid-19 variant first detected in India are concerning as infections of this strain can spread quickly and widely, the health minister said.
This is similar to situations found elsewhere, where new variants of the virus likely caused a resurgence of coronavirus cases, he said in his ministerial statement on the whole-of-government response to Covid-19. "The emergence of several clusters, new variants as well as a rising number of unlinked cases means the risk of community transmission has gone up," the Channel News Asia quoted Gan as saying.
Therefore, we must continue to stay vigilant and tighten our safe distancing measures in the community to slow down and prevent transmission of the virus, even as we make progress in our vaccination programme, he said, adding that Singapore also tightened its border measures to reduce the risk of importing cases. Education minister Wong said Singapore has a chance of getting things under control by the end of the month "but as we know from experience, it only takes one lapse or one irresponsible action for an infection to happen; and that infection may end up being a super-spreader event in the community.
Singapore, which has approximately 5.7 million population, has so far reported a total of 61,378 Covid-19 cases and 31 deaths due to the disease.