You’ve probably already heard the news that you no longer need to wear a mask on public transport from 13 February.
After a three-year-long battle with COVID-19, it appears that we are now at the tail-end of the pandemic.
With an overwhelming amount of information released in the past few days, here’s a summary of everything you need to know about COVID-19 vaccine recommendations.
COVID-19 Vaccines Remain Free
Yes, you heard me right.
COVID-19 vaccinations under the National Vaccination Programme will continue to remain free.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) stated, “vaccination remains our first line of defence against COVID-19.”
Thus, all Singapore citizens, permanent residents (PR), long-term pass holders and some short-term pass holders will continue to be offered free COVID-19 vaccinations.
MOH added, “Our high vaccination rates have been pivotal to enable us to weather successive waves of COVID-19 infections, build up our societal resilience, protect our healthcare system, and arrive at the endemic COVID-19 norm today.”
Singapore has one of the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the world, with 83% of the population having minimum protection against the virus as of 31 January.
COVID-19 antivirals will also remain free for those eligible for the full subsidy.
Until further notice, this will continue to apply in outpatient, including primary care, ambulatory settings of public hospitals and nursing homes.
In addition, MOH is exploring making all nationally recommended vaccines accessible under the Healthier SG initiative.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kong noted that though the COVID-19 vaccine is not currently a recommended vaccine, it could become permanently free if added to the initiative.
COVID-19 Treatment and Testing No Longer Free
Now comes the not-so-great news.
COVID-19 treatment will no longer be fully subsidised.
From 1 April 2023, those who require treatment for COVID-19 and its complications will no longer receive a 100% subsidy at hospitals or COVID-19 treatment facilities, regardless of their vaccination status.
No, this is not an April Fools Joke.
There is a good reason for this.
According to Mr Ong, as Singapore moves towards living with COVID-19, full subsidies are no longer financially feasible as the Government will need a new set of financing arrangements.
Fortunately, government subsidies, MediShield Life and MediSave will apply.
Financial assistance will also be available to Singaporeans with lower incomes to ease the burden of healthcare fees.
Those infected with COVID-19 will no longer need to stay in community isolation facilities, similar to other endemic diseases like influenza or chicken pox.
In its statement, MOH noted that some facilities would be maintained for COVID-19 patients who want to self-isolate for valid reasons.
However, these patients will be charged for their stay.
Furthermore, as these facilities are not classified as medical facilities, citizens and PRs will not be able to tap on government subsidies, MediShield Life or Medisave to pay for their bills.
COVID-19 testing will no longer be fully subsidised as well.
However, patients with a higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection may be referred by their doctors for free telemedicine support.
This includes those who are immunocompromised or have some comorbidities.
Updated Vaccination Guidelines
So, what jab should you take and when?
People aged five and above should have “minimum protection” against the virus.
By the way, “minimum protection” refers to three doses of mRNA or Novavax/Nuvaxovoid vaccine or four doses of the Sinovac-CoronaVac vaccine.
Meanwhile, those 60 years of age or older, individuals who are medically vulnerable and residents of aged care facilities are recommended to have a booster shot around a year after their last booster shot.
Healthy individuals between 12 and 59 years old will be offered a booster shot a year after their last booster dose.
Though these people have a lower risk of severe infection, enhancing protection for themselves is crucial.
While children aged five to 11 should achieve “minimum protection”, they are currently not eligible for additional doses.
Children aged six months to four years should complete two doses of Moderna/SpikeVax or three doses of Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty but are not eligible for additional doses currently.
Migrant workers no longer have to apply for a Popular Places Pass when visiting the community from 13 February.
The pass was introduced in June 2022 to control the crowd in areas like Chinatown, Geylang Serai, Jurong East and Little India on Sundays and public holidays.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will further ease the rules for migrant workers from 1 March.
COVID-19 tests will only be administered to vulnerable migrant workers with symptoms or if they display symptoms of severe acute respiratory infection.
In addition, unvaccinated travellers or travellers who have yet to be fully vaccinated entering Singapore no longer need to take a pre-departure test.
Furthermore, short-term visitors who are not fully vaccinated no longer have to buy COVID-19 travel insurance.
Further Easing of COVID-19 Restrictions Around the World
Speaking of travel, these past two months have shown a trend in countries further relaxing their COVID-19 restrictions.
US president Joe Biden plans to end the country’s COVID-19 public health emergency on 11 May 2023.
China, which followed a strict Zero-COVID policy since the beginning of the pandemic, began easing restrictions in December 2022.
Its borders re-opened on 8 January 2023.
International travellers just need to present a negative COVID test result obtained within 48 hours of boarding their flight.
It’s a far cry from China’s previously stringent COVID-19 policy.
While it seems that the pandemic is finally coming to an end, we should remain vigilant.
As of January 2023, WHO still considers COVID-19 a global emergency.
In his opening remarks at the COVID-19 Multi-Ministry Taskforce Press Conference, Mr Ong said, “We cannot rule out the future possibilities of dangerous VOCs (Variants of Concern) from emerging but the uncertainties and risks we face now are significantly lower compared to one or two months ago.”
In closing, he added, “We are all taking one step down, at ease, but we must be ready for the next VOC or pandemic and especially for the healthcare sector, we must be ready.”
So don’t play-play and continue to stay safe.
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