S’pore may reimpose curbs like masking in case of nasty variant, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

S’pore may reimpose curbs like masking in case of nasty variant

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Singapore must be prepared to reinstate some safe management measures, such as masking, should it face a wave of Covid-19 infections driven by a nasty variant, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Monday.

These will help slow transmissions but not unduly disrupt the lives of people here, he added.

With virtually all safe management measures lifted, Singapore is now practically back to pre-pandemic normality, with many travelling and the country again hosting numerous international conferences and events, he noted.

This, however, makes the country vulnerable, as it could be one of the first places to encounter a new and dangerous variant, said Mr Ong, who is also co-chair of the multi-ministry task force tackling the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We need to be prepared, in case there’s a nasty infection wave. We need to have our contingency plans in place,” he added.

He noted that Singapore had faced numerous Omicron subvariants, and that in such situations it can be expected that there are recombinants - or variants which combine genetic material from two different variants - of existing subvariants, such as XBB, which drove the most recent wave of Covid-19 infections here.

There is no reason for such recombinants to always be more transmissible but less severe, Mr Ong said.

“It is a random process of nature, and a new recombinant variant could always take on characteristics of a parent variant that lead to more severe illnesses,” he added.

A key response to future infection waves is Singapore’s vaccine strategy, the minister said, stressing that it is important for older people to keep their vaccinations up to date as they are more likely to develop a severe case of Covid-19.

Even in the last month, two out of every 100 infected people aged 70 and above who were not fully vaccinated either died or ended up in intensive care, he said.

On Oct 26, Singapore approved the Pfizer bivalent jab, which targets both the original strain of the coronavirus and the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants, for those aged 12 and above. It will be made available by the end of the year.

The country has already approved the bivalent version of Moderna’s Spikevax vaccine, which was introduced at nine joint testing and vaccination centres on Oct 14.

About 53,000 people aged 50 and above have already taken Moderna’s bivalent vaccine, Mr Ong said, noting the vaccine is expected to be rolled out to younger age groups in the coming weeks.

He noted the infection wave driven by the XBB subvariant is clearly waning, and that Singapore had managed to deal with the wave with practically no restrictions, with indoor masking requirements and vaccination-differentiated measures having been lifted.

While the Covid-19 task force was “very ready” to reimpose such measures should the situation worsen, these plans were stood down as infection numbers peaked and declined much earlier than expected.

Mr Ong was speaking at the 20th anniversary event of private healthcare training provider HMI Institute, where he presented 10 alumni of the institute’s course for healthcare support staff with awards that recognise their work.

In his speech, he also said that in the next one to three years, Singapore will need to strengthen the pipeline of care support staff, as it further builds up healthcare manpower. This will have to include new local entrants, foreign recruitment, and also mid-career conversions, he said.

During the pandemic, many workers the service sector, such as airline cabin crew and retail sales assistants, took up roles in healthcare support, which was a big help to our hospitals, he said. However, they have since gone back to their old jobs.

“That whole episode demonstrates that it is possible for us to bring in mid-career entrants who can play a big part in contributing to the healthcare sector.”