SINGAPORE – Singapore aims to immunize 75% of its population by early October to gradually relax border restrictions as the coronavirus becomes endemic over time, trade minister Gan Kim Yong told CNBC on Tuesday.

“Covid-19 is likely to be endemic in the future. That is why vaccination is so important. Because the transmission will continue and you will be confronted with a new variant from time to time when the virus mutates, “Gan told the” Squawk Box “from CNBC Asia.”

He said the goal is to vaccinate at least two-thirds of the country by August 9, when Singapore celebrates its national day, which marks the country’s independence after separating from Malaysia in 1965.

Data from the scientific publication Our World In Data showed that by July 3, nearly 37% of Singapore’s 5.6 million residents were fully vaccinated. This is a significantly higher percentage compared to more populous neighbors like Malaysia and Indonesia, who each vaccinated nearly 8% fully. and 5% of their population.

Vaccines can help limit transmission to some extent and reduce the severity of the disease, the minister said. This ensures that Singapore’s hospitals and medical facilities are not overwhelmed and would allow the country to “continue to live with Covid-19”.

Singapore’s national vaccination program runs vaccinations from Pfizer and Moderna, but some private clinics have been allowed to administer Sinovac for those who prefer the Chinese-made vaccine.

Travel corridors and reopening of borders

Vaccination rate will be an important marker in easing border restrictions to allow non-resident travelers to enter Singapore, Gan said.

“We hope that by the end of September or beginning of October we can cover 75% or more (of the population). Then we can open up our borders more to allow more.” Visitors to Singapore come both for business and pleasure, “added Gan.

Discussions about the establishment of travel corridors with Hong Kong and Australia have not yet produced any concrete results this year.

A bubble agreement would have enabled people from Hong Kong or Australia to travel to Singapore and vice versa without quarantine.

“We decided not to call it a travel bubble because it tends to burst,” said Gan. “We will continue to do our best to discuss with our partners and the discussion is moving forward.”

Singapore and its partners need to be prepared for potential travel corridors by making sure infection rates stay low and vaccination rates high, Gan said.

The city-state plans to conduct studies that will allow vaccinated travel between Singapore and several other destinations, he added. First, it will be done in small groups to test the process, and if those efforts are successful, it will be expanded to let more travelers into the country, Gan said.

“This will be very important for us to do it safely, build trust and allow us to refine our actions and process to ensure we can continue to protect Singapore and our visitors,” he added .

Loosen restrictions further

Singapore tightened restrictions in May as locally transmitted cases spiked and the highly contagious Delta variant was discovered in the city-state. These strict measures included a ban on eating in restaurants and grocery stores and restricting public social gatherings to two people.

Some of those measures have since been relaxed as cases are now under control and only a handful of unrelated infections are reported in the community each week.

We always believe that we have to find a very careful balance between protecting life on the one hand and preserving livelihoods on the other.

Gan Kim Yong

Minister for Trade and Industry

“We have to be careful and take a cautious approach as we open up our economy and our community,” said Gan, the former health minister and still co-chair of Singapore’s Covid-19 task force.

“This is to ensure that we can continue to keep public health under control and ensure the safety of Singaporeans,” he said, adding, “We always believe that we can strike a very careful balance between protecting life and protecting ourselves Life “must find a livelihood on the other side.”

If things keep moving steadily forward, Gan said Singapore will allow in-person dining for up to five people from July 12th. Currently, only groups of two people are allowed to dine together outside of homes.