SINGAPORE - Singapore will not be dropping Vaccination Differentiated Safe Management Measures (VDS) because the threat to the healthcare system by unvaccinated people remains high.
Refuting arguments by those who say the number of unvaccinated people here is low so there should not be discrimination against them, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said their risk of getting seriously ill and needing intensive care unit (ICU) care or dying is "far higher" than people who have been vaccinated.
There are now about 120,000 unvaccinated adults, the vast majority by choice.
Under VDS, their movements are greatly restricted. They are not allowed to attend congregational and worship services, enter attractions or cinemas, or dine in at restaurants.
And from Feb 1, they will be prevented from doing more activities, such as using all indoor sports facilities, including privately-owned ones.
Said Mr Ong: "The chances of unvaccinated Covid-19 patients needing ICU care or dying is many times that of the fully vaccinated — from seven times more for those aged 80 years and above, and 50 times more for those in their 30s."
Based on that, the 120,000 unvaccinated adults could result in 5,800 of them ending up seriously ill or dying.
Even though they are unlikely to all get infected at the same time, Mr Ong stressed that "5,800 is not a small number", and noted that at its peak, "our maximum ICU occupancy was 176".
With 176 beds occupied, the healthcare system was already under a severe strain, he said.
Even if the 5,800 getting seriously ill are spread over a couple of months, "it will be a significant load on our healthcare system, enough to displace many patients suffering from acute complications of cancer or severe chronic diseases who may need urgent medical care".
Mr Ong said that this large number will "degrade the overall quality of care of the healthcare system, which will ultimately affect everyone, especially those non-Covid-19 patients who are critically ill."
They will also consume a lot of costly Covid-19 drugs.
"And all this can be avoided if unvaccinated individuals have chosen to take their jabs instead," he said.
The biggest risk is among older people.
Mr Ong pointed out that the risk of unvaccinated people falling severely ill or dying goes up with age, from 7.2 per cent for those in their 60s, to 14 per cent for people in their 70s, and 24 per cent for people aged 80 years and older.
While the figures cited were based on infection with the Delta variant, which causes more serious illness than the current Omicron wave, they may still be relevant.
"We have not seen the full impact of the Omicron wave in Singapore," Mr Ong said.
"Now is not the right time to take a gamble to remove VDS on the hunch that Omicron may be less severe for the infected unvaccinated. We cannot gamble on the health of Singaporeans."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.