August 3, 2022

Hoping to catch Covid-19 and ‘get it over with’? Think again, say experts

By brit

SINGAPORE – If you are thinking of dropping your guard and hoping to catch Covid-19 just to “get it over with” and “enjoy” the resultant immunity, you should think again, say experts.

After multiple waves of Covid-19 infections here, six in 10 residents are thought to have contracted the coronavirus at least once, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told Parliament on Monday (Aug 1), adding that those who had a recent infection are less likely to get infected now.

But multiple experts told The Straits Times that this should not encourage people to try to catch the virus just for the sake of getting it out of the way.

“Even though the symptoms are mild, there is still a small number of people who need to be hospitalised,” said Associate Professor Alex Cook, vice-dean of research and domain leader for biostatistics and modelling at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.

His colleague at the school, Associate Professor Natasha Howard, agreed.

Aside from the risk of needing to be hospitalised, she said it was still uncertain how long immunity conferred by infection would last.

Meanwhile, Associate Professor Ashley St John, from Duke-NUS Medical School’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme, pointed out that complications, including “long Covid”, can occur even in those who have been vaccinated against the virus.

“Individuals should continue to minimise their exposure to the virus to lower the risk of developing these complications,” she said, adding that every transmission puts others at risk.

These include those at greater risk of severe illness, such as the elderly, immunocompromised, or very young children for whom vaccination is not yet approved.

Prof Howard, however, said that given most people here have been vaccinated or recently infected, the benefits of continuing to mandate indoor mask-wearing are “minimal”.

Prof Cook emphasised that when a person is ill with Covid-19 or has a cold, they should wear a mask while interacting with others, and this should be a habit even in the post-pandemic world.

He noted that mask-wearing had reduced the risk of transmission among the small fraction of the population that was infectious but asymptomatic during the containment and mitigation phases of the pandemic, but said the question now is whether there is sufficient benefit to enforcing mandatory mask-wearing when people have no reason to suspect that they are infected.

“With over 90 per cent of the population vaccinated, and over half the population infected, there is little reason to contain the virus (and) there is no need to continue mandatory mask-wearing. There should be enough confidence to ease restrictions as Singapore has ridden the first wave without any other measures in place,” he said, adding that isolation should continue to be encouraged for those with a communicable disease such as Covid-19 or the flu.

Prof St John said that whether or not indoor mask-wearing is mandatory, it is important to remember that doing so can slow the transmission of disease.

Adding that she personally still wears her mask indoors when in other countries where it is no longer mandatory, she said: “It is especially important to be vigilant and careful about mask-wearing when you may be interacting with those who are at high risk.”