Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed in an interview with Bloomberg News recently that Singapore “ will not be last in the queue” to receive COVID-19 vaccine as it has made deals with different COVID-19 vaccine makers to ensure that the country will receive the doses once it’s ready.
He also noted that Asian countries have managed to get its people to comply with pandemic measures much better than their Western counterparts. PM Lee said this in the interview which went on-air on Tuesday (17 November) for its New Economy Forum.
When asked by Bloomberg editor-in-chief John Micklethwait if smaller countries have to be concern about getting a vaccine amid worldwide demand, Mr Lee pointed out that larger countries would “get some of their way” in making sure they be placed top in the waiting list.
“It is a pity because the WHO (World Health Organisation) makes a very valid point that the best way to get COVID-19 under control is to have a rational scheme of priorities to distribute the vaccine to the places where it will make the most difference to the outbreak,” PM Lee said.
He added, “But to optimise that, on a global scale (of) around 200 countries, I think is going to be very hard”.
If that’s not all, PM Lee also asserted that a few vaccine candidates would pass muster, and in a few years’ time, these would be widely available and be much more affordable as well.
“But I do not think you would have finished protecting the world’s population within the next year,” he said.
He continued, “Furthermore, you are not sure what risks and problems may arise. We have to learn as we feel our way forward”.
Singapore has created a committee to plan those who will be prioritised to receive the vaccine first before others when it is released by the companies which it is engaged in talks with. The companies include pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, as well as with the joint effort by scientists at Singapore’s Duke-NUS Medical School and US firm Arcturus Therapeutics.
Pfizer has earlier announced that its vaccine is 90 percent effective, while the initial batch of vaccine from the Singapore-US joint venture is expected to be shipped in the first three months of next year.
Separately, Mr Lee was also asked on why Asia has managed to handle the pandemic better than others, with Mr Micklethwait pointing out hundreds of deaths per million people in the United States, Britain and Germany compared to single-digit numbers in Singapore and China.
To this, PM Lee said that people in Asia complied with the rules like wearing masks or practising safe distancing, as opposed to the Europeans or Americans “where after some time you are fed up and tired of being locked down, and there is a push back… You want to go out and let your hair down and have a drink and have a rave”.
However, he also agreed that Singapore has been lucky.
“We have quite an elderly population, so if there had been many community cases, I think we would have had a large number of causalities and deaths too,” he explained.
PM Lee noted that the city-state managed to contain the spread of the coronavirus at the migrant worker dormitories, provide medical treatment to the workers and keep them and the population safe.
Moving forward, Singapore’s challenge now is to find a safe way to reopen its borders for business and tourism without bringing in more import cases of the coronavirus into the country.
“If you are a country like China, you can decide to close all your entry points practically and be in splendid isolation for quite some time without much difficulty,” said PM Lee.
“But for Singapore, that is going to be very tough.”
As of Tuesday, Singapore recorded six new cases of COVID-19 bringing the total number of infections in the country to 58,130.