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Singapore Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. (Bloomberg)
Singapore Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. (Bloomberg)

Covid Vaccine is not ‘silver bullet’: Singapore minister

Distribution of Covid-19 vaccines will be a ‘huge challenge’, says Tharman Shanmugaratnam

Large swaths of the world population probably won’t have access to a Covid-19 vaccine even if an effective one is developed in the next year, Singapore Senior Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said.

Distribution of vaccines will be a “huge challenge," Tharman said Monday at the Singapore Summit virtual conference, adding that cheap, quick, and non-invasive testing and better-understood protocols such as social distancing should help to mitigate transmission in the meantime.

“Covid will not be over," he said in response to a question on how he sees the situation a year from now. “Don’t think of vaccines as a silver bullet."

Tharman’s comments come as developers of potential vaccines have recently announced positive news, boosting risk markets. Pfizer Inc.’s chief executive officer said it’s likely the U.S. will deploy a Covid-19 vaccine to the public before year-end, while the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca Plc have restarted a U.K. trial of an experimental Covid-19 vaccine after it was halted over concerns about a participant who fell ill.

The Singapore Summit is supported by the Singapore Economic Development Board, sovereign wealth fund GIC, the Monetary Authority of Singapore and state investment firm Temasek.

Tharman also repeated comments that the pandemic is adding to other pre-existing trends that are putting emerging markets at risk.

Here are other points he touched on:

• The big issue in the next decade is how to ensure debts are sustainable

• There’s a real risk of a wipeout of a significant number of small and medium-sized enterprises, and Singapore’s policy makers are focusing greatly on assisting SMEs; those who have been worst-hit by the pandemic worldwide have been the lowest-paid and most vulnerable

• Singapore has to maximize opportunities for locals, continue to emphasize skill development, encourage firms to anchor their regional and global businesses locally, and be mindful of adequate diversity in nationalities among foreigners while it maintains openness to people flows

• Singapore has to be a regional and global hub for areas such as finance, manufacturing, research and development -- rather than a “middling" business center -- in order to retain talent

• Social trust and trust in governments is now a critical competitive advantage as globalization evolves

• “On-shoring" isn’t going to serve the people it intends to serve, and people, companies, and governments all want to see a world that remains connected

• It’ll take a while for the U.S.-China tensions to subside, and that’s likely to “get worse before it gets better" though it’s very hard to see global firms retreating from China

• “There’s enough space for the rest of us to continue to find ways of having win-win partnerships -- including with China and with the United States"

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