SINGAPORE – The coronavirus vaccine will not be the silver bullet to end the pandemic, the co-chair of the Covid-19 task force in Singapore said this week, despite “promising” news from pharmaceutical companies.
“We are certainly encouraged by this, it is very promising, but I would also say that the vaccine is not a silver bullet to end the pandemic,” Lawrence Wong told Squawk Box Asia on Tuesday. “We don’t have to put all our eggs in the vaccine basket.”
His comments came a day after biotech company Moderna announced that trials showed that its vaccine was more than 94% effective in preventing Covid-19. Last week, Pfizer said its vaccine was more than 90% effective.
Wong, who is also the country’s education minister, said developments were positive, but there was still a “long way to go” before the safety and efficacy of vaccines were ensured. They will then have to be distributed and it will take time for enough people to be vaccinated, he added.
“We don’t just have to look at vaccines,” he said. “We really need all the tools we have, and that includes testing – having more effective ways to test outside the ‘gold standard’ of the PCR test.”
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests are currently considered the most accurate in detecting coronavirus infections, but it can take a long time to return results.
“Developing new rapid tests that are cheaper, simpler, easier to administer is very important to ensure more comprehensive testing,” Wong said.
He added that simple precautions such as wearing masks, maintaining small social gatherings and maintaining safe distances are “very effective” in keeping the infection under control.
“We really need all this to get together – vaccines, testing, safe distancing, contact tracking,” he said.
Third phase of reopening
Asked when Singapore will enter the third stage of its opening, the minister said the conditions must be right.
“It’s like … a fire that has just been put out. The embers are still around and it only takes a small spark to make the fire rage again,” he said.
People wearing face masks as a precaution walk along Orchard Road, a famous shopping district in Singapore.
Maverick Asio | SOPA images LightRocket | Getty images
Singapore entered a partial blockade in April and reopened its economy in stages in June. The second phase began in mid-June.
“When can we get to phase three? I emphasized that it is not a matter of rushing to phase three, but to make sure we are doing it right,” Wong said.
Singapore is likely to allow larger social gatherings and increase capacity constraints for public places, such as museums, in the next step of the restoration.
The Minister outlined three factors that should exist and where the country is located:
- Effective testing capabilities
“We are doing quite well in terms of testing indicators,” Wong said. The country has reached its target capacity of 40,000 tests per day and continues to use both PCR tests and rapid antigen tests.
- Continued vigilance in the community
“For the most part, I think we are doing well,” the minister said, noting that there are cases of people breaking the rules. He added that this is a permanent measure for “continuous cooperation and compliance with the requirements of Singapore”.
- Contact tracking skills
About 50% of the population has downloaded the TraceTogether app or used a tag that allows Singapore to identify people who have been in close contact with confirmed cases of coronavirus. “We are aiming to reach this to about 70% or more and we believe we can reach the end of the year,” Wong said. “It may take a little longer, but this is the current time frame we are working on.”
“We will do our best to go through phase 3, to resume activities gradually, without having to enter another switch or block,” he said. “I don’t think anyone wants to go through that again.”