In highly vaccinated Singapore, masks may be last virus curb to go

FILE PHOTO: People pass the control tower of Singapore's Changi Airport
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By Aradhana Aravindan

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore, one of the world's most vaccinated countries, is likely to stick to its mask mandate for some more time, according to its foreign minister, as the city-state cautiously reopens its borders and eases its COVID-19 restrictions.

"I don't think people want to wear masks. But on the other hand, I think we've gotten used to it," Vivian Balakrishnan, who was a medical doctor before taking up politics, told Reuters.

"That should be the last measure we dismantle," he said in an interview.

Masks have been compulsory since April last year in Singapore, which has been among the most successful countries in containing coronavirus outbreaks, with only 46 deaths recorded.

Singapore has vaccinated more than three-quarters of its 5.7 million population.

Balakrishnan also said the government would stick to its commitment to cease using coronavirus contact-tracing technology when the pandemic was over.

"This should not be a political decision, it should not be politicised. Let the professionals tell us whether contact tracing to that level is necessary or helpful and whether it secures the safety of our people," he said.

The technology, deployed as both a phone app and a physical device, is mandatory in most public places in Singapore. Privacy concerns have been raised about such apps in several countries.

Singapore had said the data is encrypted, stored locally and only tapped by authorities if individuals test positive for COVID-19.

But a revelation that the police can use the data for criminal investigations caused a public backlash. Singapore then passed a law to govern the data's use in criminal probes.

(Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan; Additional reporting by Chen Lin; Editing by Martin Petty)

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