Monday, 29 Nov 2021

Singapore wanted to ‘live normally’ with Covid. An outbreak has brought back restrictions.

Singapore is one of several countries in Asia, Europe and the Americas that have been encouraging people to mostly return to their daily rhythms and transition to a kind of new pandemic normal. Now it faces hard choices about how to handle the rising caseloads that reopenings tend to bring.

After recent outbreaks at karaoke lounges and a fishery port, Singapore reimposed restrictions on Thursday that it had lifted just a few weeks ago. Dining in restaurants and gatherings of more than two people were banned until Aug. 18, and one of the city-state’s best-known businesses, the Marina Bay Sands casino, was closed for two weeks for deep cleaning and to stop a Covid cluster there from spreading.

Lawrence Wong, Singapore’s finance minister and co-chairman of the government’s Covid task force, told reporters this week that the restrictions were a “pre-emptive tightening” to stop the pace of community transmission from accelerating.

Singapore is averaging about 117 new cases a day, according to a New York Times database, or about two for every 100,000 people. That rate is far lower than those of many other advanced economies and a fraction of neighboring Malaysia’s. But it still represents a steep rise over the past two weeks.

In late June, officials in Singapore announced plans to gradually ease restrictions and chart a path to the other side of the pandemic in which officials would focus less on the number of Covid infections and more on how many people were falling very ill from the virus.

The Singaporean authorities deliberated extensively over whether to reimpose restrictions this week, Mr. Wong said. They ultimately did so in order to protect vulnerable groups, including seniors, that are still not vaccinated at levels that would protect them from Covid, he added.

As of Thursday, nearly three-quarters of Singapore’s 5.7 million people had received at least one dose of a vaccine and nearly half of them were fully vaccinated. The city-state ranks 13th in the world in doses administered per person, according to a New York Times tracker. That puts it just behind Israel and ahead of Belgium.

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