Addressing the nation on the government’s COVID-19 plan, Lee said the COVID-19 pandemic will remain with the humankind and become endemic.
“One day this global pandemic will subside. But I do not expect COVID-19 to disappear. It will remain with humankind, and become endemic. The virus will continue to circulate in pockets of the global population for years to come. This also means we will see small outbreaks of the disease from time to time in Singapore as well,” he said.
“In this new normal, we will have to learn to carry on with our lives even with the virus in our midst. Our aim must be to keep the community as a whole safe, while accepting that some people may get infected every now and then. Just as we do with the common flu or dengue fever, which we now manage through public health measures and personal precautions. And in the case of the flu, with regular vaccinations too,” he said.
Lee said many countries were still struggling to fully bring the pandemic under control or, much less, eliminate it.
“Even as we tackle our COVID-19 situation, the pandemic rages on around us,” said Lee.
India has suffered a huge surge of new cases, although their numbers are now coming down while in Southeast Asia, many countries have not started vaccinations in a big way, and may see more spikes in the next few months, he said.
Malaysian cases have been rising, and they are just entering a nationwide full lockdown. Even places that have kept COVID-19 well under control, like Taiwan, Australia and Vietnam, have recently experienced outbreaks, Lee said.
“COVID-19 vaccinations will not entirely prevent you from getting COVID-19. But the vaccination makes this much less likely. And, if you do get sick despite being vaccinated, you are less likely to become very ill,” he said.
“Living with endemic COVID-19 also means we don’t completely close our borders. We need food, essential supplies, workers, business and other travellers to keep on flowing. We must stay connected to the world, with effective safeguards and border restrictions to keep ourselves safe.
“We will not be able to prevent some infected persons from slipping through from time to time. But as long as our population is mostly vaccinated, we should be able to trace, isolate and treat the cases that pop up, and prevent a severe and disastrous outbreak,” he said.
Lee said Singapore’s priority was to get through this pandemic and position itself strongly for the future, even as the virus continues to rage around.
“In the new normal, COVID-19 will not dominate our lives. Our people will be mostly vaccinated and possibly taking booster shots every year. We will get tested often but it will be fast and easy. We will go to work or school, meet friends and family, participate in religious services, and enjoy entertainment and sports events,” he said.
“We will reopen our borders safely. Visitors will again come to Singapore. Singaporeans will travel again to countries where the disease is well under control, especially if we have been vaccinated. Right now, we are some ways off from this happy state. But we are heading in the right direction,” he said.
Lee said the countries which are united, disciplined and put in place sensible safeguards will be able to re-open their economies, reconnect to the rest of the world, grow and prosper. Singapore will be among these countries, more confident and resilient than before, and toughened by what it has overcome together as one nation, he assured.
Singapore has been on ‘Heightened Alert’ for the last three weeks and will have to continue till June 13.
“If our situation continues to improve and the number of community cases falls further, we should be able to relax the restrictions after June 13,” Lee said.
On Monday, Singapore reported 23 new COVID-19 cases, including seven of which were imported, taking the total coronavirus infections to 62,051.
On Sunday, the Ministry of Health said a 95-year-old woman had died from complications due to the coronavirus, becoming Singapore’s 33rd COVID-19 fatality.