Life after lockdown: How places around the world are reopening as COVID-19 vaccination speeds up
SINGAPORE: As vaccinations gather pace, a number of places around the world have lifted COVID-19 restrictions and some countries have begun reopening borders to immunised travellers.
Singapore authorities have signalled that living with the coronavirus is the way forward, and are drawing up reopening plans for when vaccination rates reach a higher level here.
In a ministerial statement on Monday (Jul 5), Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said that vaccinations will enable the country to progressively reopen and reconnect with the world. He added that Singapore would be able to reach a "very high level of vaccination coverage" in the next one to two months.
READ: Reopening borders vital to recovery, but COVID-19 vaccinations must first be sped up: Lawrence Wong
More than 5 million doses of vaccine jabs have been given in Singapore and over 2 million people are fully vaccinated, according to the Ministry of Health (MOH).
But even as pandemic safety measures are eased, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned about the spread of the highly transmissible Delta variant and urged vaccinated people to continue wearing masks.
What lies ahead? We take a look at how parts of the world are opening up after more than a year of hunkering down during the pandemic.
RESTRICTIONS LIFTED AFTER VACCINATION
Israel and Iceland are two countries that lifted domestic COVID-19 restrictions after vaccinating a large proportion of their population. But Israel reintroduced masks shortly after as cases rose.
Iceland lifted all COVID-19 restrictions on Jun 26 and has vaccinated about 60 per cent of people eligible for the jabs.
Relatively unscathed from the pandemic, the country, which has a population of about 364,000, has reported more than 6,600 infections and 30 coronavirus-related deaths.
Israel had one of the fastest vaccination programmes in the world and Reuters reports that nearly 60 per cent of its population of 9 million is vaccinated.
It lifted most of its restrictions on Jun 15 but 10 days after that, reimposed a requirement to wear masks indoors amid a rise in coronavirus cases. The country has also postponed the reopening of borders to vaccinated tourists by one month.
It also warned on Monday that rising cases there suggest the Pfizer/BioNTech jab it is using might not guard so well against mild illness (64 per cent), even if it is highly effective in reducing severe disease and hospitalisations (93 per cent).
Singapore, meanwhile, is aiming to vaccinate two-thirds of its population by National Day in August. Currently, more than 37 per cent of Singapore residents are fully vaccinated.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that some relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions can be expected later in July when 50 per cent are inoculated, and there will be more easing again in August. Mask-wearing will be among the last of measures that will be reviewed, he said in an interview with The Straits Times published on Jul 1.
ENGLAND, GERMANY TO REOPEN
Despite a rising number of coronavirus cases, England is set to lift most COVID-19 restrictions from Jul 19 after which people will no longer have to wear masks or maintain social distance indoors.
The UK's other nations - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland - set their own health policies and are expected to open up more slowly.
The announcement came a day before the country reported the highest daily number of new COVID cases since Jan 29 on Tuesday, at 28,773 new cases. There were 37 deaths, the greatest number since Apr 23.
More than 86 per cent of adults in the UK have received at least one jab, with 64 per cent fully vaccinated, said AFP, quoting National Health Service data.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson is betting that vaccinations, which have weakened the link between infections and hospital admissions, can prevent the health service being overwhelmed by a new wave of COVID-19 cases.
But Mr Johnson warned cases were predicted to rise to 50,000 a day later this month and that "we must reconcile ourselves, sadly, to more deaths from COVID", BBC reported.
Germany has also announced that it should be lifting all remaining COVID-19 social and economic curbs by next month, as soon as everyone has been offered a vaccine.
Around 56.5 per cent of people in Germany have received at least one dose and almost 39 per cent are fully vaccinated.
FEWER RESTRICTIONS FOR VACCINATED PEOPLE
In a number of cities that have opened up, vaccinated people are subject to fewer restrictions than those who have not been immunised. This could be the scenario in Singapore as well when it reopens.
United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi will allow only vaccinated people in many public places from Aug 20. However, this does not apply to children under 15 and those exempt from vaccination such as pregnant women and those with medical conditions.
The city’s health app, which details testing and vaccination history, will indicate people with "green" status - who will be allowed more freedom of movement. The UAE has vaccinated more than 78 per cent of its population, according to Reuters data.
New York and California lifted restrictions on businesses and social distancing on Jun 15 after about 70 per cent of adults received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Unvaccinated individuals still need to wear masks indoors and maintain social distancing, according to the guidance from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. It remains unclear how a person's vaccination status will be checked in order for the measure to be enforced.
DELTA VARIANT POSES THREAT
Even as many places reopen or plan to do so, coronavirus variants are putting a spanner in the works.
WHO has warned that the Delta variant, which was first detected in India, is the most transmissible variant of concern identified so far.
Britain is battling a surge in infections caused by the Delta variant prompting European countries such as Portugal, Spain and Malta to tighten entry requirements for visitors from the UK.
The variant is now spreading rapidly across Europe and WHO said that hundreds of cases have been detected among spectators attending Euro 2020 football matches.
Calling Delta a "game-changer", the premier of Australia's New South Wales state on Wednesday extended a lockdown in Sydney for another week, hoping to curb an outbreak of the highly contagious variant.
Experts had initially believed "herd immunity" could be reached with 70 per cent of a population fully vaccinated, but now judge it to be 80 per cent or more, given Delta's infectiousness and because vaccines are less effective against it.
WHO has called for vigilance around all major summer gatherings and continued mask-wearing.
COME IF YOU'RE VACCINATED
Singapore is also holding out hope for borders to reopen and for leisure travel to resume by the end of the year.
The examples of territories like Phuket, which opened with much fanfare to tourists on Jul 1, will be closely watched. More than 80 per cent of the island's population have been vaccinated with at least one dose, and about 65 per cent were fully vaccinated as of June 30, CNN reports.
The Phuket “sandbox” allows vaccinated travellers to tour the island without quarantine. Tourists must remain in Phuket for a fortnight if they wish to travel to the rest of Thailand, and take three coronavirus tests during this period.
But Southeast Asia continues to grapple with the virus. Another regional tourist hotspot, Bali, has put off reopening as virus cases surged to record levels in Indonesia.
On Tuesday, Jakarta said about 10,000 concentrators - devices that generate oxygen - were to be shipped from nearby Singapore as it battles a surge in cases.
Many European countries have eased travel restrictions, particularly for vaccinated individuals and those from countries with low infection rates.
France includes Singapore among a list of “green” countries, while Italy needs visitors from Singapore to be fully vaccinated, recovered from COVID-19 or to present a negative COVID-19 test.
Spain welcomes anyone who has been fully vaccinated, although it has reimposed a test requirement for visitors from Britain after cases there spiked.
If you’re from Singapore, and a few other regions, you no longer even need proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test. Visitors who can enter Spain freely include those from Australia, South Korea, the United States, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, Thailand, Taiwan, China, Hong Kong and Macao.
The thing is, you will have to be quarantined in Singapore when you return.