The “Eliminate-Covid” KPI is becoming outdated

Author: Monica Portillo

Hon Chris Hipkins, Minister for COVID 19 Response
cc.: Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand
Hon Judith Collins, Leader of the Opposition

Dear Minister,

The NZ government has been applauded for its management of the Covid-19 pandemic. This early success can be attributed solely to quick, decisive government measures. We were fast out of the blocks, employing a few, big-hitting tactics to neuter Covid: rapid lockdowns; restrictive border controls; strong leadership communication; and significant public spending to sustain the domestic economy. This game-plan kept community cases and fatalities low and was considered a “best practices” playbook for tackling the pandemic head on. In a pre-vaccine world, this was the only logical short-term mitigation measure to prevent wanton loss of life.

The same is true in Singapore. NZ expats have been fortunate to experience a well-managed country that has employed similar tools with comparable outcomes. As a result, Singapore has registered around 5,000 community cases and 38 deaths (NZ’s loss of life is 26 while Australia’s is 918) and can be genuinely categorized as a “safe country”. One major difference is on border controls: there are up to 10x more places in Managed Quarantine in Singapore (half the country’s hotel capacity), guaranteeing its citizens the right to return safely home at any time.

Eighteen months on, the discourse internationally underlines that winning over Covid is less of a sprint, and more a marathon. It requires an adaptive and evolving game plan to keep abreast of a changing landscape.

The biggest modifier in this equation has been the development of not one, but numerous vaccine variants. As their implementation moves to the herd immunity threshold, this allows for the transition towards an “Endemic Posture” to Covid-19: a new and evolved game plan is required in reflection of this groundbreaking achievement in medical history.

In Singapore, at the time of writing, 74% of residents have received one dose and 60% are fully vaccinated. This includes myself, already back in April, in the 45-50 year-old cohort. Last week, even my 14 year-old son had his first Pfizer/BioNTech dose. [If you are interested, there is a live progress tracker] .

By striving towards a clearly defined target-threshold of 80% vaccination by September (70% will be hit in 7 days’ time), Singapore’s government intends to transit to a more nuanced approach, consigning the drastic measures necessary in 2020 to obsolescence.

This is necessary for re-starting sectors critical to Singapore’s economy, such as tourism and international travel via Changi Airport, and encouraging its students that would normally study abroad to re-commence their international education. It will also allow for a lower economic burden on the state. Travel corridors will be established with countries or regions that have managed Covid-19 well; and instead of serving the 14-day quarantine in a hotel, fully vaccinated people who travel to these areas will instead likely undergo a rigorous testing regime or serve a shorter seven-day stay at home notice, depending on the risk level of the place they visit.

As Ong Ye Kung, Singapore’s Minister of Health noted last week, “This will make us perhaps the only country in the world, which has not suffered a collapse of our hospitals nor a high death toll, and at the same time achieved a very high vaccination rate in our population.” Minister Ong also made it very clear to the population of Singapore that they must learn to live with, and expect, a rise in case numbers as they reopen, because the chief healthcare KPI will transition to focus on numbers requiring critical care.

I hope this will serve as food for thought for our own approach to reopening our borders and sectors of the economy hardest hit. The “Eliminate-COVID” KPI, thanks to high vaccination rates, is rapidly becoming outdated. It is also one which does not take into account all the other factors (economic, social, mental) which make New Zealand, and New Zealanders, what we are today.

Ngā mihi aroha / Kind Regards,
Nicholas Lee
President, NZ Chamber (Singapore)