As late as December last year, people around me have been embracing the VTL and travelling to places like the US, UK, Malaysia and feeling generally very optimistic that the economy would surge and the worst would be behind us. Not everyone felt this way. As early as late November, many shops have put their CNY goodies for sale. While this might seem a little kiasu, I believe that intuition must have told the business owners that though we’re unlikely to see another CB, new restrictions could kick in way before CNY as the VTL does what it ought to be expected to do – deliver another spike in Covid numbers.
As this time of writing, 813 new COVID-19 cases in Singapore; 365 Omicron infections confirmed. Prof Kenneth Mak has warned that this Omicron wave could bring our case numbers to 15,000 a day in a worst case scenario. Wow, we’ve been warned. Makes me feel better already. And just one day ago Minister Lawrence Wong told us that Singapore may have no choice but to tighten measures if COVID-19 spread is “amplified by unnecessary risks“. And what are these “unnecessary risks”? Or for that matter, what are “necessary risks”? They have everything to do with our hawker centres, our nightspots, the number of visitors we have have in our homes and how much time one person at a time of of two people can spend with a hospitalised loved one. All these and more, except for the elephant in the room.
Where did all that Omicron come from? The VTL of course. Now let’s take a look at how some of the VTL countries have been doing in recent days.
Indonesia looks pretty good. This is probably not surprising even though exposure to the delta variant does not always impart immunity to the Omicron variant. Nevertheless, in January 2022, an Indonesian survey found that 85% of population have COVID-19 antibodies. You can read more about it here. If you ask me, I would say that Indonesia is still a pretty safe bet at the moment.
Malaysia’s situation is only marginally acceptable. Several umrah (pilgrimage) agencies in the country expressed shock at how 14% of umrah pilgrims who returned to the country with Covid-19 Omicron variant did not have any vaccination record. Health minister Khairy Jamaluddin pointed out that of the 245 total confirmed Omicron cases in Malaysia as of 6 January 2022, 64%, or 157 cases, were Umrah pilgrims returning from Saudi Arabia. A total of 233 confirmed infections of the new coronavirus variant are imported cases, while 12 were locally transmitted. I wouldn’t be too optimistic about the situation in Malaysia.
Frankly, I have my reservations about Thailand as well and it’s good that they have just scraped their quarantine-free visas. It has also been announced that the kingdom will extend the suspension of its quarantine waiver programme and bring in new restrictions after a jump in new coronavirus cases linked to the Omicron variant. Approved applicants for the VTL can still enter quarantine-free until 15 January.
Let’s go West next. This is the UK. The government said that 200 Armed Forces personnel had been made available to support the National Health Service (NHS) in London for the next three weeks. PM Johnson has admitted that some hospitals are already overwhelmed. Just look at the numbers. We should not have them on our VTL list.
On 4 January 2022, the US broke the global record for the highest number of cases in a day – 1 million! Thanks to the post-holiday surge. On the average, they are seeing 500,000 a day. Interestingly, the US CDC has cautioned Americans against travel to Singapore as our virus level is unknown. Yep, this is the US and we certainly should not have them on our VTL list.
Things are not looking good in France either. The French health authorities warned of a “supersonic” rise in the number of cases with infections reaching “stratospheric” levels. Now that’s pretty graphic. Is opening up to France a necessary risk?
To reiterate, I have no issues with going endemic and living with the virus. And I’m not jealous that some of my friends have travelled and I didn’t. The fact is, many of us have not benefitted the slighted bit from all these VTLs while restrictions to domestic activities continue to dull our senses and turn us into anti-social zombies.
The thing is, we can all see that our authorities are being very conservative domestically while they open the doors wide open to foreign arrivals. Are we looking at necessary risks versus unnecessary risks? What are the necessary risks really and how does taking them benefit the average Joe like you and me? Would we have been worse off if we had opened up our food centres and dining/partying options while maintaining quarantine policies vis-a-vis foreign arrivals? The answer seems obvious to me but the PLPs will say that I’m flattering myself, thinking that I can do Lawrence Wong’s job. Maybe that’s why I’m not a minister. I can’t tell the necessary risks from the unnecessary risks. At the end of the day, the only thing we are likely to see and feel after taking all these necessary risks would be lighter wallets in what’s purportedly a greatly improved economy.