97% of Singapore's workforce fully vaccinated; experts call for calibrated return to office

Employees at Great Eastern's office on April 26, 2021. By Jan 1, 2022, all staff are to be fully vaccinated to be able to return to the workplace.
PHOTO: The Straits Times file

SINGAPORE - Ninety-seven per cent of Singapore's workforce have been vaccinated, and only about 75,000 employees are unvaccinated as at Dec 5, the Ministry of Manpower told The Sunday Times.

This marks a one-third decrease since Oct 17, when there were 113,000 unvaccinated workers.

This reduction comes ahead of a Jan 1 requirement for all staff to be fully vaccinated to be able to return to the workplace.

Employees can also return if they have recovered from Covid-19 in the past 270 days or have a negative pre-event testing (PET) result for the duration they are required to be at the workplace. The PET result is valid for 24 hours.

First announced in October, these workplace vaccination measures are intended to allow the Republic to reopen safely and to support businesses that have been affected by Covid-19 curbs.

Singapore's largest employer, the Public Service Division (PSD), said that its agencies have taken the time to speak with and strongly encourage unvaccinated officers to get inoculated to protect themselves and others.

Ninety-nine per cent of the 153,000 public officers it employs are fully vaccinated.

PSD said: "If an officer has special considerations and chooses not to be vaccinated even though he is medically eligible, we will engage him to discuss his concerns first, and also advise him to consult his doctor if necessary."

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Singapore's largest healthcare cluster, SingHealth, which has more than 40,000 healthcare professionals and outsourced partners working at its institutions, said more than 99.5 per cent of the workers are fully vaccinated.

In August, SingHealth allowed those who had not received their first dose to walk into its vaccination clinics without making an appointment.

Dr Gan Wee Hoe, who leads SingHealth's Covid-19 vaccination operations group, said: "We have also invited staff who had Covid-19, who have witnessed their unvaccinated or partially vaccinated loved ones suffer from Covid-19 to share their personal experiences as a form of encouragement to their colleagues."

Meanwhile, 99 per cent of front-line transport workers have been fully vaccinated, said the Ministry of Transport.

They include bus captains, airline pilots and cabin crew.

The Ministry of Education said its school leaders have played an important role in supporting its staff to be vaccinated and addressing their concerns.

Even though many organisations are well prepared to return to the workplace, this must be done in a calibrated manner, taking into account the Omicron variant and the well-being of employees, said experts.

Professor Teo Yik Ying, dean of the National University of Singapore Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said restrictions might be eased to allow perhaps 25 per cent to 50 per cent of staff to return to the workplace.

He said: "Allowing all staff to return to work physically will significantly increase the extent of people movement in the community.

"This will potentially exert greater pressure on our healthcare system, especially when unvaccinated people are expected to be at a much higher risk of being hospitalised when infected."

Ms Jaya Dass, managing director of recruitment agency Randstad Singapore, agreed that most companies will likely take a wait-and-see approach before returning to the workplace.

For instance, Randstad Singapore is targeting a return after Chinese New Year as the firm will need time to plan how its employees and split teams could be rotated and integrated, she said.

But an eventual return to the office is very likely, said Ms Tricia Tan, human resources director for South-east Asia at recruitment agency Robert Walters.

"Being in an office environment helps to strengthen a sense of belonging and inclusion," she said.

Unvaccinated employees who request a work-from-home arrangement may thus feel less motivated and this may eventually impact their performance, she added.

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