Singapore to Speed Up Vaccination, Flags Reopening Prospects

Singapore said it plans to give a first Covid-19 vaccine shot to most of its population by the end of July after securing more supplies, flagging the prospect of looser travel and social-distancing rules for inoculated residents.

The government will accelerate vaccinations from June 26 as deliveries have been brought forward, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health on Thursday. From July 2, the city-state will open vaccinations to permanent residents and work-permit holders aged 39 years and younger, in addition to Singaporeans in the same age group who currently have priority.

“We have set something quite ambitious around National Day, two-thirds of our population being fully vaccinated; so that will be the milestone that we are working towards,” Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said, referring to the anniversary of Singapore’s independence on Aug. 9. Still, coverage needs “to go further than two-thirds, especially given the transmissibility of the delta variant, and for the elderly.”

Those who have been vaccinated will be given some concessions when traveling or returning to Singapore, Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong said at the same briefing, without giving details such as a timeline for this to start. Those who travel overseas and are returning to the city-state may undergo more frequent testing in lieu of serving a quarantine, he said.

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong also said that public health guidelines will be revised for vaccinated persons, including allowing larger gatherings and relaxing social distancing rules.

Singapore to Speed Up Vaccination, Flags Reopening Prospects

Singapore is coming under growing pressure to chart a path to reopening, as other cities like Hong Kong -- which also eliminated the virus through aggressive isolationist measures -- usher in policies easing social and travel restrictions for inoculated people. Places in the Asia Pacific region that contained the virus successfully -- a group that includes Australia, New Zealand and China -- are now being left behind as Western economies reopen and normalize quickly after vaccination.

Singapore had already moved to partially ease lockdown-like measures applied in mid-May, while maintaining a conservative posture amid dozens of recent cases in the community. The country reported 14 new local cases of Covid-19 on Thursday, with 2 of them unlinked to earlier infections.

The briefing comes after the co-chairs of the nation’s task force wrote an opinion editorial in today’s edition of the Straits Times. The leaders said that they are “drawing up a road map to transit to this new normal” and acknowledged that the people have grown “battle-weary” after confronting the pandemic for the past 18 months.

“We are currently working out the road map, and the timing to reopening based on vaccination rates, and we will share more details when we are ready,” said Gan.

Under the accelerated program, Singapore will be able to administer as many as 80,000 daily doses, up from 47,000 currently and around 40,000 in May. With the announcement, the government has effectively reached out to the last group of residents as part of its campaign to inoculate most of the population. More than 70% of those aged 40 and up in the city-state have either gotten one or more vaccine doses, or made an appointment to do so.

The goverment signed an advance purchase agreement for vaccines with Novavax Inc. in January, Minister Ong said. Though there have been encouraging results published in papers, the shipment will not be ready “so soon”, because the vaccine is still undergoing clinical trials, he said.

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