Well that escalated quickly.
Since August, Singapore has been progressively re-opening its borders, going from a “Covid zero” policy to more of a “living with Covid” policy. But subsequent Covid-19 surges have now prompted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. State Department to essentially say don’t go there.
Yep, on Monday, the CDC leveled up Singapore in a not so good way. It moved this Southeast Asia island destination to Level 4 on its Covid-19 Travel Recommendations list. That means the Covid-19 risk there is currently “very high.” The CDC’s risk levels are like golf scores, the lower the better with Level 4 being the highest of the four risk levels. As I recently described for Forbes, a destination reaches Level 4 when the number of reported Covid-19 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 28 days exceeds 500. Similarly, as of October 18, the U.S. State Department is warning, “Do not travel to Singapore due to Covid-19.”
After many months pursuing a “Covid zero” policy, keeping its borders closed, and staying under a hundred new Covid-19 cases a day for about a year, Singapore is now at “Covid lots more than zero.” Over the past week, the nation has been averaging over 3,000 newly reported Covid-19 cases a day. After a 12 month stretch of controlling the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) better than most countries in the world, Singapore experienced a comparatively massive Covid-19 surge in September.
Of course, the word “massive” is often subjective. When someone says that a crowd at speech or a body part is “massive,” your first reaction may be “compared to what?” Similarly, a massive surge in Singapore still has left the country with far fewer cases during the pandemic than most countries around the world. They’ve also had a very low case-fatality rate, which is the percentage of Covid-19 cases that have ended in death. Singapore’s case fatality rate is currently 0.16%, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center. That’s well below the rates for Russia, Italy, and Brazil (all about 2.79%) as well as France (1.64%), the U.K. (1.63%), and the U.S. (1.61%). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Singapore has had a total of 233 confirmed Covid-19-related deaths throughout the course of the pandemic with the majority of these deaths occurring in the past month or so.
Not surprisingly, the September surge came soon after Singapore began easing Covid-19 precautions and travel restrictions in August. The government has since established quarantine-free travel lanes for vaccinated people in select countries such as the U.S., the U.K., France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Canada. More people entering Singapore from other countries have made it more likely for the SARS-CoV-2 to do the same as well.
It’s not as if the Singapore government in August said, “there just aren’t enough movies to watch on Netflix. Let’s have some more excitement and bring some more Covid-19 coronavirus into the country.” The country had reached the 70%-of-the-population-fully-vaccinated mark and felt that it was time to make the transition to “living with Covid.” The transition has not been super smooth with the surge in cases.
That doesn’t mean that the Covid-19 vaccines haven’t been working. As of September 26, about 98% of the SARS-CoV-2 infections have been mild or asymptomatic, based on data from the Singapore Ministry of Health. Now around 83% of people living in Singapore have been fully vaccinated, which is massively better than U.S. vaccination rates.
On Monday, the CDC also moved three destinations, Cyprus, Eswatini, and Tunisia, from Level 4 to Level 3. Level 3 means that the Covid-19 risk is “high” rather than “very high.” Therefore, you no longer need to avoid non-essential travel to these destinations as long as you are fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
So now Singapore is singing a different tune, the “living with Covid” tune. Looks like the “Covid zero” policy did end up saving quite a few lives. They are now showing the world what to expect when you go from “Covid zero” to “living with Covid” in the way that they did. Some may ask if they should have gone faster or more gradually or waited until a higher vaccination coverage. But others may say it is what it is. Singapore certainly maintained a “Covid zero” policy longer than the U.S., which by contrast has maintained what ahs effectively become a “Covid 45 million and counting” policy.