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SINGAPORE, Jan 23 — The idea of giving “benefits” to vaccinated travellers is still being studied carefully by the government, since the ability of vaccines to lower one’s risk of infecting others is still not fully understood, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.
However, the co-chair of the government's Covid-19 task force noted that early studies, including one from Israel, show that there is a good chance that vaccines can reduce transmission risk — an effect known as sterilising immunity.
He was referring to a serological study from Israel, which found that 98 per cent of hospital workers who received a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine have developed high levels of antibodies that are enough to suppress any virus particles from transmitting to others.
Responding to a question about whether Singapore is looking into creating “vaccine passports” for vaccinated persons, Wong said that if sterilising immunity is possible with vaccines, then Singapore can consider applying more relaxed Covid-19 measures for vaccinated travellers.
Such benefits could range from a reduced quarantine period or stay-home notice requirement for vaccinated persons, and can apply both to Singaporeans or overseas visitors so long as they have received the jab.
“But these are still early days. We are still studying the data and the evidence very carefully before we make any decisions on this matter,” he added.
In the meantime, Singapore has ramped up its Covid-19 detection measures at the border, requiring all cargo drivers entering the country from the checkpoints at Tuas and Woodlands to undergo antigen rapid testing from yesterday.
Those who test positive for Covid-19 will be denied entry.
Giving an update, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at the Ministry of Health, said that government agencies have been working closely on testing operations to cause minimum disruption to the cargo drivers.
Around 500 such drivers have been tested and all the tests have turned up negative for Covid-19, he added.
Wong said that such measures are needed given the increased risk of imported cases that Singapore is taking at its land, sea and air borders ever since entry restrictions have gradually been eased.
“We are continuing to keep our borders tight in terms of the control measures that we have in place across all our checkpoints.”
Referring to the higher numbers of imported cases seen in Singapore in recent weeks, Wong emphasised the need to keep vigilant at the borders.
Yesterday, the health authorities detected 15 new cases of Covid-19 — 14 are imported and have already been placed on stay-home notice or isolated upon arrival.
“(The greater number of imported cases) is a reflection not so much of more travellers coming into Singapore... but of the increase in the infection rates in countries around us,” he said.
As a result, Singapore has seen a higher incidence of positive cases among visitors.
“We have put in place a pre-departure test to screen out some of them, but that's still not effective enough because the virus may be incubating — they may test negative overseas but when they come through, they are tested positive,” he explained.
“And that's why we have a whole range of very tight control measures, including on-arrival testing at the airports at all our checkpoints. And now, we are extending that to truck drivers across our border checkpoints as well.”
The global situation is a reminder that the coronavirus could still evade Singapore’s border measures, he added.
“We will continue to make sure that the borders and the measures at the borders are tight. Whenever we do that, I think we have to recognise that the virus is circulating within our own community silently. And that's why we cannot let our guard down and we must continue to stay vigilant.” ― TODAY