It may take four to five years for the COVID-19 pandemic to end and the world to look to a post-COVID normal but that to with much uncertainities, Singapore’s Education Minister Lawrence Wong has warned.
Speaking at the Singapore Perspectives 2021 conference hosted by Singapore’s Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) on Monday, Wong, who co-chairs the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce, said there are still many uncertainties to contend with in the next few years, while sharing his hopes about how the future can be “reset” once the pandemic is over, the Channel News Asia reported.
“At some point of time the pandemic will pass, but it may take four to five years before we finally see the end of the pandemic and the start of a post-COVID normal. What will this new post-COVID world look like? No one can tell,” Wong said. He said there was still a great uncertainty about how the coronavirus will shape society in the coming years.
He said adhering to safe management measures like mask-wearing and avoiding crowds will continue for this year and “maybe a good part of next year”. “Beyond that, the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations will progressively restart global travel, but getting the world vaccinated won’t be quick or easy,” he said during the conference.
The Government has planned for everyone in Singapore to be vaccinated by the third quarter of this year, but Wong conceded that there could still be “bumps along the way”. He noted that the current vaccines may not be so effective against new mutant strains of the virus, and will have to be modified to counter them.
“In the positive scenario, this means the vaccine becomes a bit like an annual flu jab … or perhaps we develop a vaccine that works for all strains. But in the worst case, we end up always a step behind an evolving virus, and you will not be able to catch up in time,” he said.
“So there are still tremendous uncertainties ahead of us. And the bottom line is that we live in a shared world and no one is safe until everyone is safe,” the report quoted the minister as saying. Looking ahead to the post-pandemic future, Wong said the current crisis can set the stage for a “software update” or a “reboot” of Singapore after the damage inflicted the virus.
“We must reset our social compact to emerge as a fairer and more equal society. The pandemic may be indiscriminate about who it infects but its impact is anything but equal. It has, in fact, widened the gulf between the haves and the have-nots,” he said.
Wong said that Singapore started to prioritise reducing inequality a decade ago, and that last year, many emergency measures were introduced to help lower-income groups. But this year, the temporary measures will have to “taper down” as the economy improves.
However, the minister foresees that Singaporeans will need more assurance and support in a more uncertain and volatile world. “The impact of the pandemic has created an added impetus to strengthen our social support system. There will be a permanent shift towards further strengthening of our social safety nets in Singapore to protect the disadvantaged and vulnerable,” he said, adding that it will have to be done in a “sustainable manner over the long term”.