Peter Williams: Covid-19 - We need to learn to live with the virus

Peter Williams 28/06/2021

OPINION: The virus isn't going away anytime soon - shouldn't we follow Singapore's lead and get on with the business of living?

On Friday came what I think is the most interesting Covid news for ages - Singapore is to fundamentally change the way it manages the virus. So here’s a place with some similarities to New Zealand. Around 5 million people, an island nation, but also with one major difference - population density. In Singapore they have 7,810 people per square kilometre. They are crammed in. In New Zealand we have 18. We can - and do - spread out. But Singapore is about to drop its goal of zero transmission, quarantine for travellers will be dumped, close contacts of cases won’t have to be isolated and daily case numbers won’t be announced. 

The Singapore government says it will treat Covid 19 like the flu. The new normal will be living with Covid. As some of their ministers wrote in a joint statement last week, “the bad news is that Covid-19 may never go away. The good news is that it is possible to live with it in our midst.” Is that sensible and realistic or is that sensible and realistic?

But they say they won’t be doing this until more people are vaccinated. The plan in Singapore is to have two thirds of the population fully vaccinated by early August, and knowing the efficiency with which that place operates, they’ll probably achieve the target. So there’s a country with a plan. Admittedly, that plan is not going to be put into place for a couple of months yet.  Is there any sign of a plan in this country? Even if the vaccination rollout happens as scheduled, which seems highly unlikely, is there any comment, and any commitment about having borders open next year, or about doing away with MIQ? Not that I’ve heard.

And isn’t this attitude a breath of fresh air -  in Singapore, instead of reporting daily case numbers, they’ll focus on how many actually get sick, how many need intensive care and so on. In other words, they’ll monitor Covid-19 like they monitor the flu. Shouldn’t we aim for that too? Singapore’s leaders say “that every pandemic will run its course, and the road map to transit to a new normal is coming together.”  Wouldn’t you just love the same optimism in this country? Wouldn’t you like something to look forward to? Or do you have an underlying suspicion that people like being kept in fear, and being kept under the control of government pronouncements?