Singapore is experiencing three times more Covid cases than Australia right now. It’s a grim warning of what’s to come.
It has been more than a month since NSW came out of lockdown and several weeks since Victoria did the same, yet the expected increase in Covid-19 cases has not occurred.
In fact, in both states the daily numbers barely moved or even had a downward trend.
But one health expert said Australia’s covid “honeymoon” could be short-lived and we only have to look to Singapore to see cases will almost inevitably increase once again.
It’s probably just a question of when that wave will happen. Some epidemiologists think the increase is already underway.
On Saturday, Victorian health authorities announced 1,221 new premises COVID-19 cases and four deaths. NSW saw 250 cases and no deaths.
For Victoria, that’s about 100 more since Friday, but the downward trend continues in a state that saw more than 2,000 cases a month ago.
The 250 cases north of Murray are the lowest for four days, but are higher than the 129 cases as of Oct.31.
Yet in Singapore, a country of 5.6 million – roughly a million fewer people than Victoria – cases have soared since it memorably declared it would be learn to “live with Covid”.
On Fridays, Singapore recorded 3,099 cases and 14 deaths. Although it dropped to a high of 5300 in late October.
The country began easing restrictions in August with the increase starting in September when about two-thirds of its population was vaccinated twice.
Covid’s “honeymoon” in Australia may not last
Talking with ABC News, infectious disease expert Professor Dale Fisher of the National University of Singapore said the country’s experience should be a sobering lesson for Australia.
“I think you’re going to have a bit of a (summer) honeymoon because people open their doors, windows, go out for picnics. It is much safer.
“My concern, in Australia, would be more from March to April, as you will be back in the winter,” he told al ABC.
There are several warnings Singapore could deliver to Australia, he said.
One is dropping immunity which, globally, is leading to spikes in cases though vaccinations they still provide good protection against hospital admissions and deaths.
Singapore is now administering booster shots to help curb the rise in cases.
Another reason for Singapore’s lockdown wave may actually work in Australia’s favor.
A small but significant slice of Singaporean seniors did not have both shots. Figures from the country’s health ministry show that while about 95 percent of people aged 20 to 70 received both doses, this drops to 86 percent for those over 80.
This is not the case in Australia. Data from the Department of Health says that around 94% of 80-85 year olds in Australia have had both vaccinations. This figure remains above 90% for all but those over 95.
This stubborn cohort of unvaccinated people is one reason the Singapore government made the controversial decision to charge hospital bills for those who didn’t have the two shots.
Covid similarity between Singapore and Australia
What Singapore and Australia share, however, is that they are both nations where there has been very little Covid in the community. And that means vaccines must do everything they can to fight the virus,
Singapore’s Covid Minister Lawrence Wong said these countries are “Covid naive”.
“Unlike many other European countries, we have kept infections low in Singapore for a long time,” Wong said last month.
“They now have a much higher level of natural immunity and together with the vaccination programs they have introduced, many of these countries have reached the new situation of stability at Covid.”
Wong warned Singaporeans that “sooner or later” most will eventually catch Covid and that further spikes could occur.
Curse of countries like Singapore and Australia
Jeremy Lim, an associate professor at the National University of Singapore’s Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said Fortune magazine in October that the curse of countries like Singapore and Australia, which have essentially kept covid at bay, is that lowering the drawbridge will lead to spikes in cases.
“In countries that reopen covid from scratch to live with endemic covid we must expect huge numbers (of cases) and a small part will die. It’s just the nature of the virus.
“It is a terribly difficult message to communicate politically,” said prof. Lim.
However, as in other highly vaccinated countries, deaths in Singapore as a percentage of cases are much lower than they would otherwise be without vaccinations.
About 0.2 percent of covid cases ultimately lead to death in Singapore. Of those who died, 72% were not fully vaccinated.
After the country said earlier this year that it “would be living with Covid,” it hasn’t quite lived up to its bold claim that it no longer focuses on cases. Restrictions have seen in the city as cases have risen and dropped.
An easing of restrictions last week allowed five members of the same family to dine together, even tighter than Australia.
But the country’s government is determined to gradually loosen the rules and allow more foreign travelers to enter, Covid or not Covid. Lockdowns, for example, are increasingly out of the question.
Australian cases close to the increase
Some Covid observers in Australia have warned that the increase in cases may now occur in NSW and Victoria.
talking with news.com.au last week, University of South Australia epidemiologist Adrian Esterman said the reproductive number (Reff) for NSW was around one, meaning each person with covid was passing it on to another person on average .
As soon as the Reff passes one, the cases increase.
“It looks like a slight increase, but it could speed up a bit,” Professor Esterman said.
“We were pretty sure that when the restrictions were loosened, we would see more case numbers – we’re more surprised they didn’t come faster,” he said.
Rising numbers now prepare states for a covid Christmas with cases potentially on the rise during the holiday season as families gather to celebrate.
The lesson from Singapore is that the Covid “honeymoon” could be short for Australia.
Professor Fisher said that the Singapore council was clear. People shouldn’t assume covid is gone, the country should remain “cautious” about dropping all restrictions particularly when winter comes and people should get those booster shots when the time comes.
“I think there is a risk. Everyone is obviously fed up with the pandemic and wants it to end. But that would be my main warning. “
– additional reporting by Charis Chang.
Originally published as Singapore’s warning to Australia as Covid-19 cases soar despite high vaccination