SINGAPORE — The World Health Organization (WHO) and countries should focus on the number of fatalities and severely ill patients due to COVID-19, rather than the overall number of cases, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.
Ong was speaking at the 75th World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, as Singapore introduced the resolution "Strengthening Health Emergency Preparedness and Response in Cities and Urban Settings".
The resolution was adopted at the assembly, with co-sponsorship from countries from all six WHO regions.
Ong acknowledged that focusing on the bottom line – the number of deaths and severely ill patients – is not a "natural tendency" as it is much easier to measure infection while the classification of illness as "severe" can be subjective, according to a transcript on the Ministry of Health's website on Friday (27 May).
A "conscious effort" to focus on the right metric will help toward understanding that "the foundation of our response is not lock-downs, but vaccinations" of as many of the population in the world as possible, said the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce co-chair.
Such steps must be taken to strengthen health emergency preparedness and response, especially in cities and urban settings, where viruses spread the fastest, as well as the first line of readiness and response, Ong said.
The virus will continue to mutate quite quickly with the next infection wave inevitable, as was the situation with the Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 variants. But variant-specific vaccines will take months to develop, and many more months to produce, he added.
"So the best thing to do is to protect ourselves against severe illness. Furthermore, the expectations of our population are to continue to live life normally, rather than to lock down, and prevent infection."
During the World Health Assembly, Ong, who was accompanied by senior health officials from Singapore, held bilateral meetings with his counterparts – including Malaysia's Khairy Jamaluddin – and WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The annual assembly, WHO’s highest decision-making body, sets out WHO’s policy and approves its budget. Themed "Health for Peace, Peace for Health" and held from 22 to 28 May, it is the first in-person health assembly since the start of the pandemic.
To date, 1,286,216 COVID-19 cases have been recorded in Singapore, with 1,382 succumbing to the virus.
As of Wednesday, 92 per cent of the city-state's total population have completed their full COVID-19 vaccine regimen, while 76 per cent have received their booster shots.
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