Australian neighbour to open up after hitting 80 per cent vaccination

One of Australia’s neighbours has managed to get 80 per cent of its population fully vaccinated against coronavirus.

Ong Ye Kung, Singapore’s health minister, wrote on Facebook on Sunday, the country has crossed the 80 per cent vaccinated milestone.

“It means Singapore has taken another step forward in making ourselves more resilient to Covid-19,” he wrote.

“It is the result of the collective effort of many people working behind the scenes, and the people of Singapore coming forward to take care of themselves and the people around them.”

In contrast, Australia has about 33 per cent of its population over 16 fully vaccinated.

People wearing face masks as a precaution against the spread of covid-19 walk along the Helix Bridge at Marina Bay, Singapore.
People in face masks walk along the Helix Bridge at Marina Bay, Singapore. Source: Getty Images

Mr Ong added 4,300 vaccinations were conducted at home with assistance from the military, and in response to demand the government will offer 33 teams to conduct home vaccinations – an increase from 11.

The rate now means Singapore has the world’s highest rate of complete vaccinations, according to Reuters’ Covid-19 vaccination tracker. The country has had more than 67,000 coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University data. Singapore has a population of about 5.6 million people as of June last year.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong told reporters on Sunday the pandemic "has upended our world".

"We rolled with the punches and learnt to adapt," he said.

He acknowledged Singapore is "carefully" moving from a Covid-zero approach to learning to live with it.

"As we gradually open up, our daily case numbers may go up," Mr Lee said.

He emphasised the importance of vaccination and said Singapore had "fared better" than other countries.

How Singapore got to 80 per cent milestone

Singapore began vaccinating in February, which is about the same time as Australia. Mr Lee received his first jab in January as the government began its campaign to get people vaccinated.

In May, Singapore had 40 per cent of its population fully vaccinated and approved Pfizer for the 12-15 age group. Singapore has used Pfizer, Moderna and China’s Sinovac vaccines. It was also the first Asian country to receive Pfizer when supplies arrived in December.

People wearing protective mask engage in an outdoor exercise.
Singaporeans engage in some outdoor exercise while wearing masks. Source: Getty Images

Singapore re-tightened a number of restrictions in mid-July with concerns that infections were rising, many of which were linked to karaoke bars. But even at this stage, fully vaccinated residents were allowed to enjoy indoor dining as long as they stayed in groups of five.

In September last year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) praised Singapore for its aggressive contact tracing, which saw 900,000 people, about 15 per cent of its population, undergo Covid testing. Singapore has had just 55 Covid deaths while Australia had its 1000th on Monday.

Earlier this month, the government said it would approve all vaccines acknowledged by the WHO.

Singapore to open up for travel

Singapore has approved overseas arrivals from Germany and Brunei without needing a mandatory 14-day quarantine from the start of September 8. This was after Singapore and Hong Kong discarded plans for a separate travel bubble.

Lawrence Wong, finance minister and co-chair of Singapore's coronavirus task force, said it was important to reopen the country carefully.

"Risk tolerance and risk attitudes will differ from country to country," he told a briefing.

"We want to get through this pandemic with minimum damage and minimum death toll, while trying to resume life as normally as we can."

People wearing face masks as a preventive measure against the spread of covid-19 walk along Orchard Road, a famous shopping district in Singapore
People shop at Singapore's shopping distrcit on Orchard Road. Source: AAP

Singapore has been flagged as a possible travel destination for Australians as long as 80 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

After a slow start, Australia’s vaccination rollout is ramping up and so are talks of reopening borders, with Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Dan Tehan flagging the possibility of expanding overseas travel options.

He said once Australia reaches phase C of the national plan the federal government would look to formally establish further travel bubbles beyond New Zealand.

People eat takeaway and rest along the Singapore River.
People sit along the Singapore River. Source: Getty Images

Life with Covid-19 in Singapore

Singapore has already prepared for life with Covid.

Its medical experts say residents may see hundreds of deaths each year from endemic Covid-19, similar to the flu. That pragmatic approach could set an example for other countries looking to exit lockdowns as they ramp up their own inoculation programmes.

Paul Tambyah, president of the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection, said the only way to not have death from a disease is to eliminate it completely which has not happened since smallpox.

Alex Cook, an infectious disease modelling expert at the National University of Singapore, said the country would have hundreds of deaths which might seem “shocking”.

He added it is still worth taking efforts to prevent Covid infections but the deaths will be on par with people dying from influenza. As many as 1,000 may die in the next year or two in Singapore if vaccinations among the elderly do not improve, he said.

People dine in at a food court at Marina Bay Sands amid Singapore's Covid-19 pandemic.
People dine in at a food court at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. Source: Getty Images

Experts forecast the majority of the deaths will be among those in the oldest age group, who remain unvaccinated despite being eligible for nearly half the year.

Mr Ong said that as the economy opens up, Singaporeans must "be psychologically prepared that the death toll due to Covid-19 will likely also go up."

Early results from mathematical models suggest that the expected number of deaths from seniors aged 60 and above will be about 480 in 2022, Teo Yik Ying, dean of the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health at NUS, said.

Singapore might be the first country which indicates how people will ultimately live with Covid at a higher vaccination rate and harbours a plan similar to Australia.

"If countries start to move towards an endemic Covid-19 strategy, the expectation is that there will be more related deaths, although it is still unclear how many of these will be excess mortality and how many would have occurred regardless of Covid-19," Mr Teo said.

with Reuters

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