Singapore is set to lift the COVID-19 restrictions on non-vaccinated individuals from Monday but it is ready to step up such measures when necessary to lower infection rates and protect the unvaccinated, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Sunday.
With vaccination-differentiated measures (VDS) to be fully lifted on Monday, the Minister noted that while such restrictions aimed at protecting the unvaccinated in crowded areas, had pushed many to get vaccinated, it is better to step them down given that they are now not as extensive.
"Today VDS is very light and in restaurants is pretty much an honesty system with random sporadic enforcement,” Ong said while talking to the media at a club event.
"It's not that VDS doesn't work. In its current form, which is light, I think it doesn't work as well. So, we might as well step it down with the understanding that we can step up to an appropriate level when we really need it."
In a statement, the Ministry of Health on Friday announced that VDS will no longer be required for events with more than 500 participants, nightlife establishments where there is dancing, and dining at food and beverage establishments, including hawker centres.
When asked if there was any concern that the easing would result in those above 50 not getting their fourth booster shot, Ong said he does not think that it is in their consideration given that VDS is currently not extensive, and he appealed to those in that age bracket to stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccination.
"When you are fully vaccinated and up to date, your chances of being infected and leading to a very bad outcome is much lower, much lower. Do it to protect yourself and don't listen too much to the rumours circulating outside," Ong was quoted as saying by The Straits Times newspaper.
Ong said the government has been transparent about the reactions caused by vaccines, with the Health Sciences Authority publishing the severe adverse reaction incidents every three months.
He added that such cases mostly recover by themselves and that while there are risks to every type of vaccination, this has to be weighed against the cost of remaining unvaccinated.
"Come December, we don't know what kind of variant will come up or what kind of variant will arrive in Singapore. If it's something dangerous, we don't want to be caught off guard,” the Minister said.
"So now, while we have the time and the space, get ourselves properly vaccinated with the bivalent vaccines. It is the best protection for us for whatever may come in December," Ong said.
The health ministry has said that it will replace the original Moderna/Spikevax vaccine with the updated bivalent version from October 17, and this will be for all adults aged 18 and above.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, Ong said clinical studies show that the bivalent version has the same safety profile as the original Moderna/Spikevax.
“Serious adverse events (SAE) have been reported in about six in 100,000 vaccinations of the original formulation, and all have recovered or are recovering,” he assured.
“HSA has also reported a declining rate of SAEs with further shots (i.e. even fewer have adverse reactions after taking boosters compared to taking primary series),” he said.
In the post, Ong clarified that while being infected with COVID-19 is considered a shot for the purposes of achieving minimum protection, it is not considered as a substitute for a shot to keep up to date with vaccinations.
Meanwhile, Singapore reported 6,888 new COVID-19 infections on Tuesday, a jump from the 2,587 new local cases the day before.
There is usually a spike in the number of cases on Tuesdays, due to people socialising over the weekend, with the media reports attributing to the increase coming days after the return of the F1 Grand Prix race that attracted more than 300,000 people last Friday to Sunday.
The race was not held in the last two years during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Singapore’s total COVID-19 cases as of Thursday were 936,270 and 1,625 related deaths since the disease broke here.