It could take four to five years for the COVID-19 pandemic to end, and the world to look at a post-COVID standard, said Singapore’s Minister of Education Lawrence Wong.
Speaking at the Singapore Perspectives 2021 conference, hosted by the Singapore Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) on Monday, Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministerial task force COVID-19, said there are still many uncertainties to deal with in the next few years. He also expressed his hopes about how the future can be “reset” once the pandemic is over.
The pandemic will pass at some point in time, but it could take four to five years before we actually see the end of the pandemic and the beginning of a normal post-COVID. What’s this new post-COVID world going to look like? No one can tell, “At some point of time the pandemic will pass, but it may take four to five years before we finally see the end of the pandemic and the start of a post-COVID normal. What will this new post-COVID world look like? No one can tell,” Wong said.
How the coronavirus will affect society in the years to come?
He said there is still significant doubt as to how the coronavirus will affect society in the years to come.
He said it will continue for this year and “maybe a good part of next year” to stick to secure management measures such as mask-wearing and avoiding crowds.
“Beyond that, the availability of COVID-19 vaccinations will progressively restart global travel, but getting the world vaccinated won’t be quick or easy,” he said during the conference.
The government has intended to vaccinate everyone in Singapore by the third quarter of this year, but Wong conceded that “bumps along the way” could still occur.
He found that existing vaccines might not be as successful against new mutated strains of the virus and that they may need to be updated to counteract them.
“In the positive scenario, this means the vaccine becomes a bit like an annual flu jab … or perhaps we develop a vaccine that works for all strains. But in the worst case, we end up always a step behind an evolving virus, and you will not be able to catch up in time,” he said.
“So there are still tremendous uncertainties ahead of us. And the bottom line is that we live in a shared world and no one is safe until everyone is safe, “So there are still tremendous uncertainties ahead of us. And the bottom line is that we live in a shared world and no one is safe until everyone is safe.
Looking ahead to the post-pandemic future, after the damage done by the virus, Wong said the current crisis could set the stage for a “software update” or a “reboot” of Singapore.
“We must reset our social compact to emerge as a fairer and more equal society. The pandemic may be indiscriminate about who it infects but its impact is anything but equal. It has, in fact, widened the gulf between the haves and the have-nots,” he said.
Wong said that a decade ago, Singapore began to give priority to reducing inequality and that a number of emergency initiatives were implemented last year to support lower-income groups.
But the temporary steps will have to “taper down” this year as the economy improves.
The minister, however, foresees that in a more unpredictable and turbulent environment, Singaporeans will need more certainty and support.
“The impact of the pandemic has created an added impetus to strengthen our social support system. There will be a permanent shift towards further strengthening of our social safety nets in Singapore to protect the disadvantaged and vulnerable,” he said, adding that it will have to be done “sustainable manner over the long term”