Singapore doesn’t expect surge in Covid-19 cases from travellers from China: Ong Ye Kung, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Singapore doesn’t expect surge in Covid-19 cases from travellers from China: Ong Ye Kung

The low number of people coming to Singapore from China so far and contributing to severe cases here, and the lack of any new, more virulent variant emerging there, is why Singapore’s current Covid-19 measures work and are appropriate, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Monday.

The 38 weekly flights from China as of now bring in 700 to 1,000 travellers a day, which is less than 10 per cent of the pre-Covid-19 number, Mr Ong said in a ministerial statement in Parliament. Any increase in flights will be carefully calibrated, he added.

In the last four weeks of 2022, about 200 travellers from China were detected to have Covid-19 - or less than 5 per cent of all imported cases in that period. In contrast, Asean countries accounted for half of imported cases here, 15 per cent were from the rest of Asia, 11 per cent from Europe and 9 per cent from the Middle East, said Mr Ong.

Of the seven imported cases - mostly returning Singaporeans - that led to severe illness, only one was from China.

Furthermore, no new variants have emerged in China, although given China’s population of 1.4 billion, the majority of whom have not been infected by Covid-19, there remains risks and uncertainties.

New variants can emerge from anywhere in the world, not just China, said Mr Ong.

“But we cannot be complacent. The measures may work now, but not permanently,” he said. “We will continually assess the situation and, if need be, make adjustments or implement new measures at all times. Our decisions must be based on science on evidence and on data.”

Singapore had never totally dismantled its pandemic measures, said Mr Ong. Incoming travellers need to be fully vaccinated based on World Health Organisation standards or produce a negative pre-departure test.

This is neither the tightest or the most liberal border measures among countries, but somewhere in between, he said.

The great majority of people in Singapore have also been vaccinated or have recovered from mild infections, so the population has developed strong hybrid immunity, said Mr Ong.

He said: “Today, the probability of Covid-19 infections leading to severe illnesses or deaths for our population has become very low – comparable to influenza or pneumococcal infections.”

For instance, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICU was in the single digit over the past 30 days, although there were a few deaths, he noted.

“Based on the severity rate today, annual deaths caused by Covid-19 infections is similar to that caused by influenza infections,” he said.

“Hence, with extensive vaccination coverage, we can treat Covid-19 as an endemic disease. Like Influenza, top line infection numbers should no longer be our pre-occupation.”

Nevertheless, he warned that things could change, since the pandemic is not over.

“What worries us most now, is the emergence of a new, unknown and more dangerous variant of concern,” he said.

“It may possess worrying characteristics – escape vaccine protection, be more infectious and lead to more severe cases, which would be very bad news. A nightmare variant can knock us back to almost square one.” 

Should that happen, Singapore may need to reinstate measures such as strict border controls, quarantine for travellers, social restrictions like as limits on group sizes, until a new and effective vaccine is developed.