SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore is opening up its COVID-19 vaccination programme to adolescents from Tuesday to help contain the latest outbreak that has infected some students, and will step up testing and tracing.
The city-state is among the first countries in the world to offer vaccines to teenagers before completing inoculation of adults.
The city-state will open up vaccination for 12-18 year-old adolescents, followed by the last group of young adults aged 39 years and below.
"As long as our population is mostly vaccinated, we should be able to trace, isolate, and treat the cases that pop up, and prevent a severe and disastrous outbreak," Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday in a speech.
The prime minister said everyone who is eligible for a vaccination and wants one should be able to get at least their first jab by the country's national day, which falls on Aug. 9.
Over a third of Singapore's population of 5.7 million has received at least the first dose so far.
The country should also be able to relax recently imposed restrictions on social gatherings after two weeks if the local COVID-19 situation continues to improve, he added.
Singapore re-imposed some restrictions on social gatherings this month, the toughest since exiting a lockdown last year, to combat a recent spike in local COVID-19 infections. The current restrictions are to last until June 13.
It will hasten contact-tracing and testing, including via over the counter DIY tests. Lee said he had received confirmation of faster deliveries of COVID-19 vaccines over the next two months.
The city-state has been using the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines.
In another announcement on Monday, the city-state said it will allow private healthcare providers to access other COVID-19 vaccines that are on the World Health Organization's (WHO) emergency use listing, such as shots from Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, and Sinopharm.
Ong Ye Kung, the health minister, said this means that if approved by the WHO, institutions can apply to draw on 200,000 doses of the vaccine developed by China's Sinovac Biotech, which have been delivered but await Singapore's regulatory nod.
Although Singapore's cases are only a fraction of those recorded in neighbouring countries, the outbreak follows months of reporting few or no local cases each day. The island-state confirmed 16 new local COVID-19 cases on Monday, down from a recent high of 38 on May 16.
With its economy dependent on being a trade and transport hub, Singapore is under pressure to reopen safely.
Lee said Singapore would have to prepare for COVID-19 to become endemic. "In this new normal, we will have to learn to carry on with our lives even with the virus in our midst," he said.
(Reporting by Chen Lin, Anshuman Daga and Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Editing by Martin Petty and Raju Gopalakrishnan)