SINGAPORE – Singapore’s high vaccination and booster rates give the country a window of opportunity to ease some Covid-19 measures, especially as the Omicron variant causes a less severe form of the disease, suggest several experts.

Easing measures does not mean doing away with all safety measures, they said. But there are some that may no longer be as useful.

The experts, however, were divided, with some thinking that it was not yet time to let society’s guard down, given the rapid spike in case numbers that could follow. That risks overwhelming the health system, even if many might have less severe illness.

The range of views emerged in the light of the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) recent warning to countries not to relax Covid-19 measures prematurely.

On Tuesday (Feb 1), Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid-19, said that the world body was concerned about countries with low levels of vaccination putting vulnerable people at risk of severe illness or death should they open up prematurely.

WHO officials added that it was premature for countries to declare victory over Covid-19, or rush to treat the disease as being in an endemic or end state.

But Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, an infectious diseases expert at the National University of Singapore Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, argued that this latest advisory did not apply to Singapore.

He said: “WHO’s advice does not apply to us at all, since I think we are all agreed that we will not remove every last measure and return to a pre-Covid-19 state.”

Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the school, added that “with high vaccination uptake, as well as a resilient and well-prepared healthcare system, Singapore is well placed to relax its measures to continue on the trajectory to live with Covid-19”.

Local experts generally felt that measures that are no longer needed include restrictions on the number of people participating in outdoor activities, and even the wearing of masks outdoors.

With the rapid spread of the Omicron variant, contact tracing no longer adds much value, especially since people can spread the disease while asymptomatic, they added.

Prof Teo suggested allowing more travellers to come in through vaccinated travel lanes (VTLs) and increasing group sizes from the current five.

On community restrictions, he said: “I do not see the need to continue to forbid the use of parks and open spaces for outdoor activities such as camping and barbecues. Schools are gradually permitting CCAs (co-curricular activities) to resume, and I expect this can be accelerated, especially with paediatric vaccinations gaining momentum.”

Prof Paul Tambyah, a senior infectious diseases consultant at the National University Hospital, suggested easing measures that have the most human costs, such as limitations on household visits.

published 2022-02-06 14:46:30