Gatherings at Chinese New Year: Singapore government studying if tighter Covid-19 safety measures needed

Education Minister Lawrence Wong said that the Government is studying what sort of increased measures are needed to keep coronavirus infections within control, such as the rules targeting house visitations during Chinese New Year. — TODAY pic
Education Minister Lawrence Wong said that the Government is studying what sort of increased measures are needed to keep coronavirus infections within control, such as the rules targeting house visitations during Chinese New Year. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Jan 22 — The Government could introduce further restrictions and safeguards for the upcoming Chinese New Year festivities to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said.

This is because more intermingling between people is expected, he said at a media interview session on Tuesday (Jan 19), though he did not give any details of possible restrictions. 

Wong, the co-chair of the Government’s Covid-19 task force, noted the recent spike in the number of community cases, which could have been the result of increased gatherings and interactions over the December festive period.

“We are concerned that if we continue in the same sort of current situation, we don’t do something more, then this continued creep in the cases may end up with new clusters emerging that may be beyond our control later.”

The Government is now studying what sort of increased measures are needed to keep infections within control, such as whether there is a need to look at rules targeting house visitations.

“We are considering very carefully now whether additional measures may be necessary,” he said.

Being prepared for next pandemic

When asked to give his prognosis for Singapore’s battle against Covid-19 this year, Wong said that the future is still too hard to predict.

“In the immediate term, from now until perhaps one-and-a-half years from now, I don’t expect major changes.

“Even if the majority of people in Singapore get vaccinated, it is impossible for the world to be vaccinated by this year, which means all around us, there will be countries where the virus may still be raging at the end of the year or early next year.”

But eventually and surely, the pandemic will pass, he emphasised. 

“No pandemic is forever. Either the world gets vaccinated and achieves herd immunity, or the virus attenuates, is no longer as deadly, or something else happens and the pandemic passes.”

No one knows how long that will take, but Wong believes that there could be a gradual recovery of the economy and social norms in four to five years’ time.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, the other co-chair who was also at the media interview, said that he disagreed with Wong’s estimate of four to five years for the pandemic to be truly over.

“This is one point that I disagree with him, because over the next four or five years, I’m quite sure the next pandemic would happen.” Gan was referring to the likelihood of a future pathogen that could decimate humanity — Disease X — but is still unknown and unexpected by mankind.

Because of this danger, the good habits learned from the current crisis — such as flexible work arrangements and stringent border health checks — should be maintained.

“So before we celebrate when Covid-19 is finally over, you have to always be vigilant that the next pandemic is just a short distance away,” Gan added. — TODAY

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