Singapore’s Health Minister, Ong Ye Kung, sounded an alarm on Friday as the nation confronts another COVID-19 wave, expecting a surge in sickness and hospitalizations in the upcoming weeks. The spike, which has witnessed daily cases double from 1,000 to 2,000 in the past two weeks, is largely attributed to two variants – the EG.5 and its sub-lineage HK.3, offshoots of the XBB Omicron strain. These variants currently comprise over 75% of daily infections.
Despite this, Ong clarified that the government does not plan on reintroducing social restrictions like the previous wave, which saw daily cases peak at 4,000 in April. Instead, the strategy is to treat COVID-19 as an endemic disease. He assured that there’s no evidence indicating these new variants cause more severe illnesses than their predecessors. “Current vaccines remain effective against these strains,” Ong emphasised.
However, the Health Minister urged vigilance. Citing a Ministry of Health study, he illustrated the stark difference in severe illness incidence rates between the “best protected” and “least protected” groups – 10 per 100,000 versus 50+ per 100,000 respectively. A critical takeaway was that protection efficacy diminishes around the 12-month mark, underlining the importance of timely booster shots.
Ong strongly advised seniors and vulnerable individuals to stay updated with their vaccinations, recommending an annual shot. While acknowledging that the virus hasn’t become less threatening, he credited the nation’s enhanced resilience to diligent vaccination and recovery practices. He concluded with a reminder that the Ministry of Health continues to offer free COVID-19 vaccinations at its centres.