Back in late June, three Singaporean ministers sitting on the city-state’s COVID-19 task force wrote an article in The Strait Times entitled “Living normally, with Covid-19.” In the piece, the ministers outlined a roadmap for Singapore to “transit to a new normal.”
The coronavirus, the ministers explained, must be accepted as an endemic disease, one which “may never go away.” It would become something akin to influenza: a disease that mutates every year, but one in which the vast majority of people do not fear as the risks of becoming severely ill are so low. It is true, they admitted, that “in the United States, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized every year because of the flu, and tens of thousands die.” But since the disease cannot be eradicated, Singapore would turn it into something “much less threatening…and get on with our lives.”
The ministers pointed to a number of strategies that the Singaporean government intended to adopt. A high vaccination rate would protect the majority of the population. Testing would be widely available for anyone and everyone who needs it. Treatments will improve. The government would stop monitoring daily infection numbers and focus on outcome-related metrics, such as hospital capacity. All of this would become Singapore’s new normal.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha has also formally declared that Thailand’s plan is now to “live safely with COVID-19,” but Thailand’s own reopening plans have hardly been a fount of confidence. In June, Prayut declared that the country would aim to fully reopen in 120 days — with both domestic restrictions relaxed and international measures eased. The initial part of that goal has already happened: most of the domestic restrictions were eased in late August. The international reopening, on the other hand, was quietly scaled back to a Phuket-esque sandboxification of multiple provinces in October, and even that plan was thrown into disarray with officials recently contradicting each other about whether or not Bangkok would reopen at all next month.