This is absolutely not the time to relax and let our guard down, or to hold a big party, imagining that the problem has disappeared. Progressing from Phase 2 to Phase 3 is a calibrated, careful move. We are easing the restrictions in a controlled way, so that we can keep the COVID-19 situation stable and take more steps forward later. It is vital that you stay cautious and vigilant, continue to cooperate with the government, and comply with the rules and restrictions that will apply in Phase 3.
Update on Vaccinations
How long will we have to keep this up for? It may be for quite a while, possibly a year or more. One key factor is how soon COVID-19 vaccines become available to us.
The government has been working quietly behind the scenes, since early in the pandemic, to secure access to vaccines. This was not a simple exercise. More than 200 vaccine candidates were being developed, and not all would succeed.
We started talking to the pharmaceutical companies early to understand the science and identify the promising candidates and the vaccines likely to reach production sooner.
We have set aside more than $1 billion. We placed multiple bets, to sign advance purchase agreements and make early down-payments for the most promising candidates, including with Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and Sinovac. We made arrangements with pharmaceutical companies to facilitate their clinical trials and drug development in Singapore and attracted a few to establish vaccine manufacturing capabilities here. We also supported local efforts to develop a vaccine. This gave our own scientists and researchers the opportunity to do cutting edge work. It was also insurance in case the global supply chain was disrupted. This way, we built up a diversified portfolio of options, to ensure that Singapore would be near the front of the queue for vaccines, and not last in line.
Securing early access to vaccines was a whole-of-government effort. Many agencies and public officers, led by the Head of the Civil Service, were involved in this critical mission. I commend them for their good work. They are among the legion of unsung heroes who have helped us get through this crisis.
As you would have read the news, the first vaccines are now coming into production. I am very happy to tell you that after studying the scientific evidence and clinical trial data, the Health Sciences Authority has approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for pandemic use. The first shipment should arrive by the end of this month, making Singapore one of the first countries to obtain this vaccine. We also expect other vaccines to arrive in Singapore in the coming months. If all goes according to plan, we will have enough vaccines for everyone in Singapore by 3Q2021.
MOH has set up a committee of doctors and experts to recommend a vaccination strategy for us. The committee has proposed that the entire adult population should be vaccinated, but to make vaccinations voluntary. First priority will be given to those who are at greatest risk: healthcare workers and frontline personnel, as well as the elderly and vulnerable. Thereafter, the committee proposes to progressively vaccinate the rest of the population, and to cover everyone who wants a vaccination by the end of next year.
The Government has accepted these recommendations. I have personal confidence in our experts. My colleagues and I, including the older ones, will be getting ourselves vaccinated early. This is to show you, especially seniors like me, that we believe the vaccines are safe.We have decided to make vaccinations free for all Singaporeans, and for all long-term residents who are currently here.
With more of us vaccinated, the harder it will be for the virus to spread, and the safer we will all be as a society.
Vaccines will support our recovery in more ways than one. As a global aviation hub, we play a crucial role transporting vaccines around the world. Vaccines require cold chain management. An ordinary refrigerator is not good enough: the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius, colder than the Arctic in winter! This requires infrastructure, high standards, skilled personnel, and good connectivity to many different countries and all along the supply chain.
Fortunately, Singapore has a strong ecosystem for cargo handling. Leading global logistics companies like DHL, UPS and FedEx are based here. SIA, and Changi Airport’s ground handling partners are certified by IATA (the International Air Transport Association) to handle and transport pharmaceutical supplies. We are now gearing ourselves up to handle large volumes of vaccine shipments into and through Singapore, to help win the global fight against COVID-19.
We did not get here overnight. We have always planned ahead, systematically creating opportunities for ourselves. It took us years of investment and planning, building a business-friendly climate and expanding our air links around the world. These long-term investments are now paying dividends.
During this immediate crisis, we have reacted quickly and comprehensively, marshalled resources to solve our problems, and stayed resilient. Our situation is now stable, but only because everyone has worked so hard, and sacrificed so much. Now that vaccines are becoming available, we can see light at the end of the tunnel. As vaccinations become widespread not only in Singapore, but also in our region and the world, we can look forward to resuming more normal lives.
Let us keep up our efforts in this final stretch, to cross the finish line together, and complete our mission to defeat COVID-19.