Global Health Asia-Pacific March 2022 March 2022 - Page 47

country going through the Omicron wave . Like any other country that ’ s been exposed to the Omicron variant , in Singapore we can see a sharp rise in numbers and thereafter a rapid fall again . We will see again a rise , a peak , and a fall thereafter . But all this should be over in about three months .
The exception is China which has a zero tolerance policy . But authorities in Hong Kong have failed to contain the virus and are seeing large spiking numbers . One difference between Hong Kong and Singapore , or Australia and New Zealand , is that Hong Kong has a much higher death rate , and this is attributed to the low vaccination rate and even lower booster shots rate . The number of vaccinated individuals helps , as does the number of boosted individuals . The simple comparison between Hong Kong and Singapore , in actual severe patients ( those requiring oxygen ), will show this startling result .
At this point in time , we ’ ve gone past the peak in Singapore . All we need to do is to maintain current measures , and the wave will taper down , although we may see a minor rise again when safe management measures are relaxed in the coming weeks .
Q . Experts in many countries argue that COVID-19 is in the process of becoming an endemic disease that doesn ’ t require restrictions any longer . Do you agree and , if so , how do you think the process will play out in Singapore and globally ?
A . I do agree that COVID-19 is becoming endemic . Every country will have a spike in cases during the Omicron wave . Thereafter , it will fall to a low base rate that will persist for many many months to years . There will be some fluctuations and differences because of the seasons , with higher numbers during winter or the cold months .
In Singapore , we can expect immigration policies to relax more , allowing inbound and outbound travellers back as we return to the old policies we had in place in 2019 . I ’ m hopeful that , by the second half of the year , PCR testing prior to travel or after entering a country may no longer be needed .
Q . Is this improvement also caused by the Omicron variant being less harmful than previous variants like Delta ?
A . This improvement is helped by the Omicron variant being less severe . In part , it affects the upper airways rather than the lower airways , and sufferers appreciate that there is a lot of chest pain and sorethroat . But this makes the disease milder , as compared to the lung infection .
Overall , we do see patients requiring less oxygen compared to the same types of patients with similar risk factors having Delta .
Dr Leong Hoe Nam
Q . When do you think Singapore can get back to normal , meaning lifting all restrictions and travelling freely ?
A . In the second half of the year or in last quarter . The lifting of most measures should start in the second half of the year . But the lifting of the mask measures , as the government indicated , will be the last .
The nation must be prepared for individuals to have repeated infections . The prediction is that each infection gets milder and milder , for the overall majority of individuals . The concern is for those who are immunocompromised , where the blunted immunity may place them at risk . This is a known existing problem with influenza . It is not new . And we just have to live with it .
Q . Many believe that we can ’ t put an end to the pandemic until most people in the world , especially in low- and middle-income countries , get vaccinated because of potential new variants of the virus . Do you agree ?
A . I agree . When a virus replicates without restraint , you can have new variants developing . The world is safe only when everyone is safe .
We need a better proportioning of vaccines to
GlobalHealthAsiaPacific . com MARCH 2022
45