Nation’s vax success story unravelling

Infections are soaring in a country where more than 80 per cent of the population are fully vaccinated. But the numbers tell only half the story.

Singapore reached a milestone last week when more than 80 per cent of its adult population had received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine.

But the good news was soured by case numbers that have climbed exponentially since 29 local cases were reported in the Asian nation on August 22.

Over the weekend, there were a daily high 3700 new infections. On Sunday, the number dipped only slightly to 2807.

Just months after emerging from lockdown with a remarkably low death toll, the government has reinstated the bulk of restrictions — including one that means a family of three cannot leave the house together for a walk.

There is a silver lining to the current outbreak. According to Singapore’s Ministry of Health, 98.5 per cent of all local infected cases over the past 28 days “were asymptomatic or had mild symptoms”.

It is a different story for those not yet vaccinated. There were nine deaths on Sunday associated with the virus, taking the country’s Covid-19 death tally to 162 — well below Australia’s total death count.

On the ground in Singapore, people are feeling the effects of a drawn-out reopening. One Australian man, who spoke to on the condition of anonymity, said the government took two steps forward only to take a big step back.

“The rules here are strict and strictly enforced,” he said.

“Singaporean public opinion is a little inscrutable because there’s no legitimate outlet for it, but anecdotally you look at the Facebook page of the Ministry of Health and there are a lot of people calling for harsher lockdowns as cases rise.

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“Basically Singapore has struggled with emerging from Covid and transitioning out of fear of the virus and dealing with rising case numbers. They have announced a whole bunch of vaccinated travel lanes (most recently with US and several European counties) but these are just Singapore reciprocating the long open borders in these places.

“On the ground, despite the rhetoric about opening and endemic Covid, they have tightened rules considerably. Group sizes in public are capped at two — this means our family of three cannot even go for a walk together.

“We had breakfast at a cafe this morning and had to sit at separate tables. The PM said this is to slow the spread so the health system can cope — but the result is a system where I can fly to Europe but I can’t have breakfast with my wife and daughter.

“It’s absurd and pushing a lot of expats to breaking point as the country is all vaxxed and ready to go.”

In August, it looked like a smooth exit from lockdown was on the cards.

From August 6, fully vaccinated Singaporeans were able to eat at restaurants in groups of five, with household allowed to receive five visitors as well.

Unvaccinated individuals who could prove a negative pre-event test were also able to benefit. And as of August 19, workplaces were able to welcome 50 per cent of staff back to the office.

Live performances, cinemas, sports events, exhibitions, conferences and weddings were given the green light to go ahead with up to 1000 vaccinated attendees and up to 50 unvaccinated attendees.

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But with cases now doubling every eight days, the old rules on gatherings are back.

According to Channel News Asia, there are 1613 patients currently in hospital and “most of them well and under observation”.

The Ministry of Health says 292 patients require oxygen and 41 are in intensive care.

Lawrence Wong, Singapore’s Covid-19 multi-ministry task force co-chair, said in August that the country’s high vaccination coverage meant they were able to move into a new phase of “living with Covid and becoming Covid-resilient”.

“We would only revert to such a tightened posture as a last resort to prevent our hospital system from being overwhelmed,” he said.

The success the country had in August seems a lifetime ago now. The Australian man who spoke to said Singapore had handled the pandemic well. But that locals are getting restless.

“We have had a good pandemic with barely any deaths and a fair approximation of normality for most of it, just wearing masks and manageable gathering limits,” he said.

“(But) two steps forward, one step back now is frustrating.”


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