Covid-19 vaccine programme to start in Singapore before year-end

A beaming Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loon

Baming Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loon unveils the upcoming Phase Three re-opening

By Ivan Lim
Former AJA President, Contributor to AsiaN 

SINGAPORE: Even before the year is out, Singaporeans will get free inoculation against the Covid-19 killer-bug under a state-funded $1.33 billion programme that will kick off with the first batch of vaccines from US-Germany venture Pfizer-BioNTech.

In addition, vaccines from Moderna of the United States and China’s Sinovac will be brought in as options, so that there is enough vaccines to go round, not only for citizens but also long-term residents. The Republic has a population of 5.8 million, including expatriates and guest workers.

The good news on the vaccines came together with further easing of pandemic-driven restrictions on December 28. A beaming Prime Minister, Mr Lee Hsien Loong, unveiled the upcoming Phase Three re-opening, following two earlier rounds of winding down of ‘circuit-breaker’ curbs – introduced on April 7- as the virus surge of up to 1,000 cases in March and April had abated. The latest easing of social and economic curbs includes:

*allowing eight people, from current five, to meet for meals and family visits;

*enabling up to 250 people to gather for worship services, split into batches of 50, with live limited music performance;

* allowing up to 250 people to attend outdoor live performances with zones of 50; and.

*permitting local tour operators to increase size of groups, up to 65 per cent from 50 per cent previously.

The easing came as the city-states experienced a remarkable stretch of zero virus cases in the local community. New cases were picked up only among people arriving from overseas.

Short of declaring an end to the Covid-19 pandemic, Prime Minister Lee said the city-state had built up stronger defences against the menacing SARS-coV2 virus after a year-long touch-and-go struggle. The multi-ministerial taskforce onCovid-19 could now carry out crucial routine and targeted testing of higher risk groups as well as contact-tracing via Safe-Entry and Trace-Together programmes. Thus, the authorities are able to isolate and ringfence infected individuals and slow down the virus spread.

These measures were supplemented by the people’s discipline in wearing surgical masks when going out and observing social distancing drill. To be sure, some offenders were slapped with fines as a warning to slackers.

In his Dec 14 telecast, PM Lee struck a cautionary note. “This is absolutely not the time to relax and let our guard down or to hold a big party, imagining that the problem has disappeared”.

Even with the advent of Covid-19 vaccines, Singapore still needs to stay the course in the final stretch of the race to cross the finishing line and complete its mission to defeat Covid-19.

The Prime Minister said he and his Cabinet colleagues will be among the first to be vaccinated to show it is safe. Priority will go to doctors, nurses and other frontline personnel as well as the elderly.

The Health Sciences Authority has approved the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine after studying scientific evidence and clinical trial data, Mr Lee said.

While most Singaporeans cheered the government’s provision of free vaccines and are going to be inoculated right away, some said they would rather wait and see how the vaccine works.

“I am concerned about the potential side effects of the Pfizer vaccines,” said a retiree in his 70s.

He referred to chest pains, fever and headaches suffered by two health-care workers inoculated with Pfizer vaccine in the United Kingdom recently.

This led to the British health authorities to warn that those who are susceptible to severe allergies should avoid the vaccine. Scepticism aside, most Singaporeans are likely to fall in line as the mass vaccination campaign gets underway. As PM Lee said: “When you get yourself vaccinated, you are not just protecting yourself, you are also doing your part to protect others, especially your loved ones.” Singapore aims to vaccinate the entire adult population by the end of 2021.

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