With it being over two years since the COVID-19 pandemic began, seeing your friends post their positive COVID-19 tests while you scroll through your Instagram stories might seem like a pretty normal occurrence now.
But how many of us have been keeping track of the exact number of people around us who have contracted COVID-19?
And if you’re wondering about the actual numbers and statistics, we’ve got you covered.
Just today (1 August), Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung announced in Parliament that around six in every ten local residents in Singapore have contracted COVID-19 before.
This value was estimated by “systematically [monitoring] blood samples from routine polyclinic cases and other health volunteers for signs of previous infection” based on his speech in Parliament.
According to Mr Ong, there are approximately 1.7 million cases of COVID-19 that have been reported in Singapore, which is also equivalent to around 30% of Singapore’s entire population.
Infection Rate Does Not Equate to Herd Immunity
However, despite the fact that almost 60% of locals in Singapore have contracted COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, Mr Ong also noted that it does not mean that Singapore has achieved herd immunity against COVID-19.
“By and large, scientists around the world do not think herd immunity is achievable because the virus will continue to mutate, escape the protection of vaccines and then infect people,” he explained.
He also dispelled a common misconception that a 100% infection rate will mean that Singapore has herd immunity when answering a question raised by Mr Seah Kian Peng, a Member of Parliament (MP) from the Marine Parade Group Representative Constituency (GRC).
“Even if we hit 100%, we will not have herd immunity because it’s no longer a function of… vaccinations or infections, but it is the fact that it is a fast-mutating virus and you will escape prior infections’ protection,” Mr Ong emphasised.
Mr Ong also highlighted that we should not think that achieving herd immunity will mean that the COVID-19 virus will “disappear” from our lives.
Singapore’s Current COVID-19 Situation
As of now, the BA.5 Omicron variant of COVID-19 has been the main cause of the wave in COVID-19 cases in Singapore.
Although the variant is known to be highly transmissible, it is predicted that this wave will subside even more over the course of this week.
However, this does not mean that we are in the clear for good.
Mr Ong also stated that the protection that vaccines and previous infections give us will decrease over time, meaning that cases will likely increase again after a period of time.
Apart from that, the Health Minister also noted that there has been a decrease in the hospitalisation rate for COVID-19 patients when compared to the Omicron wave that took place at the start of this year.
Back then, 2.4% of patients who contracted COVID-19 required hospitalisation.
In comparison, only 1.9% of COVID-19 patients were hospitalised.
The actual percentages are expected to be lower as well since not all of these cases are reported cases of COVID-19.
Around 80,000 Seniors Have Not Been Fully Vaccinated
In his speech in Parliament, Mr Ong also touched on the vaccination rates in Singapore — senior citizens in particular.
For one to be effectively protected from contracting critical illnesses caused by the Omicron variant, three mRNA shots are required.
Currently, there are around 40,000 seniors who have yet to receive their booster shots despite being eligible for them.
Apart from that, Mr Ong also shared that another 40,000 seniors in Singapore have not had their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine yet.
“All of them are very vulnerable to severe illness if infected, and we will continue to try to reach out to them through our mobile vaccination teams, through our home vaccination teams,” Mr Ong mentioned.
We Might Have Regular COVID-19 Vaccine Shots in the Future
As for the rest of the population, Mr Ong also raised the possibility of Singaporeans receiving COVID-19 shots on a regular basis in the future.
“I have deliberately used the term up-to-date vaccinations, rather than a second, third or fourth booster shot. This is because at some point, just like flu vaccinations, we have to stop counting the number of jabs we have taken.
“Instead, we must ensure that we get a jab at a suitable interval – maybe nine months or a year. This is something MOH (Ministry of Health) will try to determine in the coming months,” he explained.
Mr Ong also emphasised that we should not be complacent despite having conquered the “worst” of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We must anticipate when that will happen and take the necessary precautions, the most important of which is to keep our vaccinations up to date,” he added.
Such Schemes May Be Implemented When COVID-19 Reaches Endemic Stage
However, it seems like plans for COVID-19 shots to become regular in our lives might not get rolled out so soon, at least according to what Mr Ong mentioned in Parliament at the start of this year.
At that point in time, Mr Ong announced that having regular shots for COVID-19 may come into play when COVID-19 becomes an endemic disease in the future.
Mr Ong also echoed similar sentiments in Parliament today (1 August).
“As of now, there is no change to MOH’s guidelines and recommendations,” he clarified.
Mr Ong then highlighted that Singapore needs to be wary of new COVID-19 variants that might emerge.
These variants may be more infectious or cause more critical illnesses, and the current vaccines may not be effective in preventing us from contracting future variants as well.
Even though we all hoping for the best, Mr Ong pointed out that several countries located in the northern hemisphere are cautious about new variants that may emerge during the upcoming winter.
He also noted that social restrictions will once again be enforced if such variants end up in Singapore in the future.
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