Singapore health minister: Strict border controls ‘no longer very relevant’ when transmission rates elsewhere are stable, lower than Singapore

The task force today eased several border measures, including the resumption of travel from countries such as Bangladesh and India. — TODAY pic
The task force today eased several border measures, including the resumption of travel from countries such as Bangladesh and India. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, Oct 23 — Strict border controls are “no longer very relevant” as Singapore moves to living with Covid-19, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said, and that is why borders are reopening even though people here are not allowed to gather in groups larger than two.

Ong, who is co-chair of the national Covid-19 task force, said during a press conference on Saturday (Oct 23) that Singapore is heading towards “an equilibrium” and is able to live normally with the Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus.

“The most common question I’ve come across is why are we reopening borders, yet not allowing larger groups for dining,” he said.

“This is because the brakes of border control are no longer very relevant. When Singapore had very few cases, or when we had very few cases, and other countries had very high infection rates, we needed border controls to prevent infections from gushing in through our borders. Now the situation has changed.”

He pointed out that transmission rates in many countries have stabilised and, in some cases, are even lower than in Singapore.

Furthermore, only travellers who are fully vaccinated and tested pre-departure or upon arrival have been allowed to come here.

“This is why imported infection numbers, if you notice, is very low every day and is a very small fraction of total community infections.” 

Border controls form one brake, and the other two brakes that the Government has put in place to curb the spread of Covid-19 are administering vaccines and booster shots to the population and applying infection control measures such as limiting social gatherings to groups of two, he added.

These brakes are necessary because learning to live with Covid-19 is like riding a bicycle downhill, he said, with the slope being the Delta variant of the virus.

“So you think about this as riding a bicycle downslope. If you do nothing, the bike goes faster and faster until you lose control and the bike will crash. But if we apply the brakes just right, the bike can go down the slope at a steady, controlled speed,” he said.

He stressed that vaccines are key to adding further immunity to the population as resistance against the virus increases progressively.

“At some point, infection numbers will not go up anymore. It plateaus and then it starts to come down. And that is why we say no transmission wave will last forever because it is against nature,” he said.

“Then, we may relax social restrictions, allow events and gatherings in bigger groups, and yet find that cases do not go up very sharply. We may stay at an acceptable level (of new cases), probably a few hundred a day and (these would be) mainly mild infections.”

The task force today eased several border measures, including the resumption of travel from countries such as Bangladesh and India, following a review of the pandemic situation in these countries.

It also said that once the weekly infection rate drops to a more sustainable level, it will look at relaxing certain rules even before the current stabilisation phase is slated to end on Nov 21.

In particular, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, also a co-chair of the task force, said that household members dining out together in groups of five, team sports and school activities could be allowed if this “key indicator” of weekly infection growth rate falls. — TODAY

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