60% of Singapore residents have likely been infected with Covid-19 but this doesn't confer us herd immunity: Ong Ye Kung

About 1.7 million Covid-19 cases have been reported, and the numbers translate to about 30 per cent of the population.
PHOTO: The Straits Times file

SINGAPORE - Six in 10 local residents have likely been infected with Covid-19, but this does not confer herd immunity, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung in Parliament on Monday (Aug 1).

He said that about 1.7 million Covid-19 cases have been reported, and the numbers translate to about 30 per cent of Singapore's population.

"We also systematically monitor blood samples from routine polyclinic cases and other health volunteers for signs of previous infection. From these samples, we estimate about 60 per cent of local residents are likely to have been infected with Covid-19," said Mr Ong.

"Notwithstanding, this does not confer us herd immunity. By and large, scientists around the world do not think herd immunity is achievable because the virus will continue to mutate, escape the protection of vaccines and then infect people," he added.

Singapore is currently in the middle of a Covid-19 wave driven by the highly transmissible Omicron variant BA.5. As social restrictions will not be popular, the country will have to rely on vaccinations to protect the population against severe illness, he said.

Mr Ong said that during the last Omicron wave at the start of this year, 2.4 per cent of infected persons needed hospitalisation. During this wave, 1.9 per cent ended up in hospitals. The actual percentages are likely to be lower because not all cases are reported cases.

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Nevertheless, the vaccination coverage of vulnerable sectors of the population, especially the seniors, remains a concern as the country has hit a plateau where booster shots are concerned.

Three mRNA shots are needed to get good vaccine protection against severe illness from Omicron infections. However, there remain 40,000 seniors aged 60 and above who have not received their booster shots, even though they are eligible, he said.

Another 40,000 seniors have not completed two doses yet, he said.

"All of them are very vulnerable to severe illness if infected, and we will continue to try to reach out to them through our mobile vaccination teams, through our home vaccination teams."

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.