To date, Singapore has recorded a total of 68,901 Covid-19 infections and 55 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.
“We know from the experience of other countries that when cases rise so sharply there will be many more ICU cases and many more people succumbing to the virus,” he said.
Singapore pursued an aggressive “Covid zero” policy during the pandemic, imposing tight restrictions including shutting restaurants, closing borders and enforcing social distancing.
But in June, the government announced it was planning to move toward a living with Covid strategy — attempting to control outbreaks with vaccines and monitoring hospitalizations rather than restricting citizens’ lives.
But the new outbreak has halted any further re-openings, Singapore’s Covid taskforce chief Wong said on Monday.
Wong said Singapore will attempt to contain the new outbreak through more aggressive contact tracing and by “ring-fencing” cases and clusters.
Mandatory testing for high-risk workers will also happen more frequently — once a week instead of once every two weeks. And the list of workers subjected to mandatory testing will be expanded to include retail, delivery and public transport staff.
He said it was a reflection of Singapore’s new policy and high vaccination rates that the country was able to maintain a level of openness during the new outbreak.
“But if despite our best efforts, we find that the number of serious cases needing oxygen in ICU care goes up sharply, then we may have no case but to tighten our overall posture, so we should not rule that out,” he said.
A warning for other countries
Singapore’s outbreak comes as other countries in the region, which were previously aiming for zero infections, move towards a similar living with Covid model.
Millions of residents in the Australian states of New South Wales and Victoria have been living in lockdown for months as local authorities attempted to contain Delta outbreaks. They have since conceded that won’t be possible.
But some Australian state leaders have warned against opening state borders prematurely, questioning why they would willingly expose their populations to the virus.
Western Australia and Queensland currently have zero Covid-19 cases in the community.
“The idea that we would prematurely decide to deliberately import the virus … is complete madness,” he added.
Some epidemiologists say if restrictions are eased before vaccination rates in vulnerable communities are high enough, the results could be catastrophic.