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Ong Ye Kung Says Complacency Is Our Biggest Enemy, Staying Prepared For Next Wave Is Key

Ong Ye Kung Warns ASEAN Against Complacency, Says Readiness Is Crucial

Compared to some countries, Singapore is now experiencing a long-awaited sense of freedom after relaxed Covid-19 measures.

But it will be a huge mistake to let our guard down now in our continuing fight against Covid-19, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.

In his speech at the 15th ASEAN Health Ministers Meeting and Related Meetings in Bali, he said complacency poses the biggest threat in this regard.

He also suggested ways ASEAN countries can continue to guard against the virus after the “baptism of fire” experienced by ASEAN Health Ministries.

Ong Ye Kung says biggest enemy is complacency, not the virus 

In his speech, Mr Ong said it was good to finally reconnect with his fellow ASEAN health ministers after a difficult two years spent managing the Covid-19 pandemic.

He observed that ASEAN countries have weathered the storm and are on the path to recovery with reopened borders and the resumption of everyday activities. However, we cannot afford to let our guard down now, even if life seems as if it has gone back to normal.

Saying that such complacency would be a “huge mistake”, Mr Ong stressed that ASEAN members would likely see new waves, resurgences, new variants or worse, a new virus in their own countries in the months to come.

For instance, there could be a resurgence of an Omicron wave due to waning societal immunity or the emergence of a new variant driving re-infections. Man’s continued encroachment on nature could result in a new virus altogether.

While the close cooperation of ASEAN during the Covid-19 pandemic had brought them closer together as information, resources and experience were shared, Mr Ong stressed that regional health cooperation was crucial in “enhancing collective preparedness and response to pandemics”.

Critical tasks ahead for ASEAN

If and when that happens, Mr Ong said we must be more ready than when we had first encountered the virus.

He suggested three critical tasks for ASEAN countries.

Firstly, testing and surveillance systems must be in place. He cited the breakthrough achieved in the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases (ACPHEED), which paved the way for regular monitoring and surveillance capabilities.

It also allowed ASEAN countries to benefit from getting early warnings about new Covid-19 variants of concern (VOC) and new infectious diseases.

Secondly, Mr Ong said ASEAN must not let up in its efforts to vaccinate and protect populations.

Vaccine immunity will wave over time and may become less effective against other VOCs. On this front, ASEAN can work better to ensure a ready supply of vaccines and facilitate vaccine donations and swaps.

Lastly, ASEAN can focus on making travel lanes and supply chains more resilient in the face of rising shipping costs.

Mr Ong said he had discussed establishing an ASEAN mutual recognition system for vaccine certificates, from which similar systems with other regions, such as the United States, China, India and the European Union, can be forged. This is because checking vaccine certificates is likely to be the new norm for travel.

He added that Singapore is looking forward to its continued cooperation with ASEAN to prepare for the next Covid-19 wave or even pandemic.

We must not take our freedom for granted

The relative ease with which we live with Covid-19 now did not happen in a day.

It was hard-won and made possible with the dedication and sacrifices of countless healthcare workers, as well as the cooperation and vigilance of Singaporeans, young and old.

It would be wise to remember the painful lessons we have learnt to remain alert and ready if and when new variants and viruses emerge.

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Featured image adapted from Tan Tock Seng Hospital on Facebook.

Belinda Wan

Belinda likes stocking up on necessities and junk food. She also thinks air con is the world's best invention.

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