SINGAPORE — Singapore is easing up on COVID-19 restrictions "step by step" as it moves into the endemic phase of the pandemic, "without having had to make unsettling U-turns", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
Acknowledging that it has had to change course on its COVID journey, PM Lee told Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait on Wednesday (17 November) that the city-state is trying to reach an end point without paying the high price many other societies have, a report by The Straits Times said.
At the same time, it is trying to persuade Singaporeans that it is necessary to accept a few thousand COVID cases a day. Nevertheless, there will be casualties, mainly old people.
"It is just the way life is and it is the way influenza and pneumonia and other diseases carry off old folks by the thousands every year. We accept that and we have to manage this going forward without letting it go out of control," said Lee, who was speaking at a gala dinner at the Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore on Day 1 of the Bloomberg New Economy Forum (NEF).
When Micklethwait asked if the 61,000 unvaccinated individuals above 60 are preventing the country from opening up further, Lee noted that the "human cost" of writing them off would be a high one.
"The terrible trauma that society goes through – you have people who are sick, whom you cannot treat, who die waiting for oxygen or waiting for a bed – I would much rather not have to do that."
The PM noted that trust is critical in changing course, easing restrictions and reopening borders."It is not my logic which persuades people, but they watch you, they listen to you. They either have confidence in you and faith in you or they decide: Well, he sounds good, but I am not following him."
Last month, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung denied that Singapore's COVID management strategy amounted to a "flip-flop", claiming that its "middle-of-the-road approach" and strict controls throughout the large part of the past 20 months of the pandemic has helped avert the "many tragic deaths" seen in other countries.
He also addressed the "inconsistencies" in the country's COVID policies. "If we are prepared to live with some inconsistencies, then we have a basis to move forward...Eventually, everyone will get there."
Prevailing COVID restrictions that allow groups of up to two to dine in at F&B outlets – families from the same household were allowed to dine in restaurants in groups of up to five from Wednesday – are set to expire on Sunday. It is unclear if the restrictions would be extended.
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