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Singapore must choose whether to impose restrictions for all, or only for unvaccinated

As Singapore braces itself for a new Covid-19 wave driven by the Omicron variant, it must choose whether to tighten social restrictions for everyone - or only for those who are more likely to strain the healthcare system.

This is why the Health Ministry has chosen to tighten restrictions on unvaccinated workers, said Parliamentary Secretary for Health Rahayu Mahzam on Monday (Jan 10).

She was responding to Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MP Hazel Poa, who had delivered a speech in Parliament urging the Government to rethink its stance.

On Jan 15, unvaccinated workers will no longer be able to return to their workplaces even if they test negative for Covid-19, as part of enhanced vaccination-differentiated safe management measures (VDS).

Exceptions will be made for those who are medically ineligible for vaccination. They constitute 0.3 per cent of all unvaccinated workers.

As individual workers bear the brunt of their decision not to get vaccinated, they should be allowed to choose, Ms Poa said. "They must have strong reasons, based on their own individual circumstances and personal medical history, for sticking to their decision not to vaccinate... Don't put them between a rock and a hard place."

She added that the Government's decision to bar such workers from workplaces is "too harsh", noting that working from home is not practical for every job. "The new measure is essentially licence to terminate."

Ms Rahayu responded that Singapore now faces the prospect of another surge of cases due to the Omicron variant. Even though the country is in a better position than before - with 87 per cent of the population having received two doses - it needs to decide what to do next.

"We need to decide whether to tighten up all our safe management measures again, which would affect the lives and livelihoods of both the vaccinated and unvaccinated, or to calibrate our measures so that we only tighten up for those who are unvaccinated and who would be more likely to impose strains on our healthcare system," she said.

While negative pre-event test results indicate that a person has not been infected, the person has no protection against the virus, Ms Rahayu added.

She noted that 48,000 workers were unvaccinated as at Jan 2, compared with 52,000 on Dec 19. Of those who have not been vaccinated, the largest group comprised 16,000 people aged 30 to 39.

Two-thirds of intensive care unit beds are typically occupied by unvaccinated people, she said.

"They're also more likely to be administered therapeutics which are not cheap. So although a small proportion of our population, they take up a disproportionate amount of medical and hospital resources and contribute to a significant amount of workload of our hospital staff."

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