SINGAPORE — Singapore's next steps beyond the current Omicron wave cannot be predicted as it is in the "fog of war", said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Friday (21 January).
Ong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force on COVID-19 (MTF), told reporters at a virtual media briefing that it was a matter of juggling three key aspects, in order to ensure the optimum combination of policies whilst riding through the wave: the healthcare system, safe management measures (SMM) and vaccinations.
"There's certain expectation that we have a plan. We plan out beforehand, on this day, on this time, we will do this, do that based on certain metrics, and we will just proceed. But actually we are in a fog of war. It doesn't quite work like that."
Ong added, "Every variant is different and behave differently. And you just have to go through it and judge the situation and make decisions along the way. That's how in the middle of a crisis, that's how you make decisions."
Riding the Omicron wave
The minister was responding to a question on how authorities will know that the peak of the Omicron wave has been hit, given that the MTF warned earlier that the city-state might see up to 15,000 COVID cases a day, and how this peak might affect SMMs.
Finance Minister and MTF co-chair Lawrence Wong noted that while it was impossible to estimate the peak of the Omicron wave, there was a "certain momentum" in the infection rate, given that the week-on-week infection ratio continues to rise exponentially.
"So we are bracing indeed, as you say, for this wave. We don't think it is prudent to relax or ease measures during this particular period," said Wong. The MTF could begin thinking about "the next mile" once there is confidence that the healthcare system is not overwhelmed and the vast majority of COVID-19 cases are mild, he added.
Pressed several times to give specific details of benchmarks, Wong quipped, "I'm not sure how many times I have to answer the same question asked in repeated variants. No pun intended."
He stressed, "We intend to get through this wave. We are hopeful that we can do so with our current posture, given our assessment of the situation up to now, but there is still uncertainty in the coming days and weeks.
"Let's not get ahead of ourselves: we are in the midst of a wave."
On Thursday, Singapore reported its weekly COVID-19 infection growth rate rose to 2.17, the highest since 16 September last year's 2.25.
It also confirmed 1,472 new COVID cases, down from 1,615 a day before. Of these cases, some 77 per cent – or 1,133 – are local while 339 are imported.
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