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Singapore on track to ease more Covid-19 restrictions soon: Experts

Experts say the nation should be on track to further ease Covid-19 measures soon, given the current situation and how things developed over the past three weeks.

They added that while it is still too early to tell the impact of the Omicron variant, there have been some encouraging early signs.

Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, told The Straits Times on Friday (Dec 10) that unless the authorities are waiting to give more people their booster shots, or get children vaccinated, there "isn't much else to wait for" in reopening.

"It makes sense to be a little cautious while the Omicron epidemiology is gauged, but I'd be surprised if there isn't further relaxation of measures soon, perhaps come the new year," he said.

Professor Paul Tambyah, senior consultant at the National University Hospital's Division of Infectious Diseases, said that Singapore is "most certainly" on track to ease further measures soon.

But the professor of medicine at NUS' Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine pointed out that such a decision would be a policy one, rather than a medical or scientific one.

"From a medical point of view, the most important decision was made months ago to abandon the zero-Covid-19 strategy and plan on living with the virus with no more intense contact tracing or PCR (polymerase chain reaction) testing and isolation of every case. Once that decision was made, all restrictions could be gradually lifted, depending on the comfort level of the authorities," he added.

The multi-ministry task force tackling the coronavirus here had earlier eased measures on Nov 22, allowing people to gather in groups of five.

Announcing this on Nov 20, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the task force, had also said Singapore would be unlikely to further ease Covid-19 restrictions in December, and that the country would consider its next steps "around the end of December" if all went well.

Prof Cook noted that since the middle of November, the number of new cases has fallen from around 2,000 or 3,000 a day to fewer than 1,000.

While he acknowledged that the fall had been tapering off recently and that some of the drop could be due to fewer people getting formally diagnosed, the number of patients in intensive care units (ICUs) has also fallen "quite a lot" over the last few weeks.

"This gives some confidence we are rounding the corner," he said.

Prof Tambyah said that the daily reported numbers do not include those who test positive via antigen rapid tests, which, according to the Ministry of Health's (MOH) guidelines, should be the majority of cases.

But he added: "What is more important is that most of the public hospitals are now apparently able to start reducing the additional beds that they had set aside for patients with severe Covid-19."

 

 

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