Can The World Live With COVID-19?


  • Singapore’s vaccination rate is among the world’s highest
  • Relaxed restrictions have sent cases soaring

Relaxed restrictions have increased the number of COVID-19 cases. Reopening plans have been delayed and some restrictions have been re-imposed. More than 98 percent of COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic or with mild symptoms.

Living with COVID-19

Only 60 people in Singapore have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic first emerged, and some 82 percent of its population is now fully vaccinated against the disease.

Dr Ong Eu Jin Roy, a family physician in Singapore, says the country of 5.7 million has not yet reached the endemic stage, where the virus becomes something people routinely live with, like the flu.

In June, the government announced it would move towards a “living with COVID-19” strategy, focusing on tracking and treating outbreak clusters with vaccinations and hospital admissions.

That month, it began the gradual easing of its coronavirus curbs, but the weeks since have laid bare the challenges of moving from epidemic to endemic.

Consequences of relaxed restrictions

Relaxed restrictions have sent cases soaring. Reopening plans have been delayed and some restrictions have been re-imposed.

After months of relatively low numbers of daily new cases, over the weekend Singapore reported crossing the 1,000 mark for new daily cases, the highest since April last year.

The government has called the increase a “rite of passage” as the island nation adapts and adjusts its hoped-for model of living with the virus and its variants.

“We are on a path of transition to a new normal of living with COVID-19,” Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told a virtual press conference on Friday. “It is a journey that is uncertain and full of twists and turns.”

Public hospitals are seeing a surge in the number of patients but more than 98 percent of them are asymptomatic or with mild symptoms, so health officials are now urging them to go to a general practitioner or clinic to free up hospitals for urgent care.

On Saturday, health officials expanded home recovery as the default care management model for fully vaccinated COVID-19 patients aged 12 to 69 without severe symptoms. Seven in 10 patients are expected to qualify for home recovery under the new scheme, which is designed to relieve the pressure from growing caseloads on hospitals, intensive care units, and the healthcare community’s capacity to cope with what feels like an endless battle.

Dr Ong says medical workers are nearing exhaustion.

“We’ve been enduring, but there has to be an endpoint where we can see the goal post,” Ong said. “When the government wants us to open up and be endemic, I think that’s great, because really we are reaching the end of our limits. You cannot be in a heightened alert state where the adrenaline is going every day that you go in. It cannot go on.”

Impact of COVID-19 on mental health

In addition to boosting the capacity of medical services to handle increased cases, Dr Steven Tucker credits the country with expanding services to help residents cope with mental health issues and COVID-induced stress, from anxiety over personal safety to rent relief for food and beverage outfits forced to close under lockdown orders.

“The stressors that are affecting everyone, as variable as they may be, are: ‘Am I going to get sick. Is my family member sick? Am I going to need to quarantine? Do I have access to care?” Tucker, an American-trained oncologist living and practicing in Singapore since 2006, told Al Jazeera.

“All of this amounts to a mental health stress that Singapore has responded very quickly to, acknowledged, and has made efforts to address,” Tucker added.

Reason behind high vaccination rates

The reason for Singapore’s high vaccination rates is that the country makes it hard to do things such as being allowed into restaurants or other public places without being fully vaccinated.

Precautions taken by Singaporeans :

  • wearing face masks
  • social distancing
  • working from home eating at home
  • limits on inbound travelers

“Singapore has done relatively well, with widespread testing, tracking, vaccinations, and broad adherence to government policies,” Jeannette Ickovics, a professor of public health and psychology at Yale-NUS College in Singapore, told Al Jazeera. 

“These practices and policies will continue here, because the global epidemic persists with more infectious variants and an anemic global vaccine rollout. It is a basic principle of public health that all are vulnerable if any are vulnerable; therefore, we must remain vigilant.”

She added, “How do we live with COVID-19? Go back to basics: wash your hands, wear a mask, convene outdoors, socially distance, if not feeling well stay home. Try to streamline your work, evaluate and articulate what you need to get it done, and embrace flexibility.”

Although Singapore’s vaccination rate is among the world’s highest, the country is still trying to convince sceptics to go for the jab.

On Friday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, already vaccinated nearly eight months ago, received a COVID-19 booster jab, and shared a photo and video with a message to fellow seniors.

“Cases are increasing rapidly. A booster jab will strengthen your protection against COVID-19,” Lee said on Facebook.

Influence of COVID-19 on business community

Some of them in the business community complain privately that it is time to allow more cross-border travel freedoms, many say Singapore’s handling of the pandemic has helped its status as a key center for global business.

“If anything, Singapore has become even more attractive as a hub for global and regional business in the past two years,” Steven Okun of consulting firm McLarty Associates told Al Jazeera. “For example, as a result of both US-China trade tensions and the need for more resilient supply chains given the pandemic, businesses from both China and the US see Southeast Asia as a critical market.”

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