People run and cycle on a bridge leading away from the Merlion statue in Marina Bay in Singapore on Saturday, May 22, 2021.

Joseph Nair | NurPhoto | Getty Images

SINGAPORE – Singapore has refrained from tightening social distancing measures, despite the highly contagious Delta variant having greatly increased Covid-19 cases as the country shifts to a long-term strategy of living with the coronavirus.

“Every country that wants to live with Covid-19 has to go through this rapid and exponential increase in daily infections that we are now experiencing at some point,” said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung at a press conference on Friday.

Singapore has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, with 81% of the population fully vaccinated, according to data from the Ministry of Health. The number of cases has grown rapidly, from an average of 76 per day two weeks ago to 288 per day last week, the ministry said in a statement on Friday.

With the current trend, the number of cases could soon hit 1,000 a day, she added.

But the number of serious cases has remained low. As of Thursday, there were 26 cases of serious illness that required oxygen supplementation and seven critical cases in intensive care units, the Ministry of Health said.

Nevertheless, the city-state wants to limit the number of deaths from Covid and avoid overloading its hospitals, Ong said. Therefore, the government is not opening the economy any further for the time being, added the minister.

“Virtually every country that has seen this type of transmission wave has suffered hospital burglaries and high death tolls – we want to avoid that,” Ong said. He added that if the country can achieve this, it will not need to revert to a “long, hard lockdown”.

The Singapore government has both tightened and relaxed the measures several times since May as the highly contagious Delta variant spreads across the country. Last month, measures were relaxed, including allowing larger groups to gather and dine at food and beverage establishments.

But earlier this week the government announced a ban on workplace gatherings and more aggressive testing to “identify and isolate” cases faster. It also encouraged people to limit social gatherings for the next few weeks.

The Singapore government said Friday that more infected people who are fully vaccinated can recover at home, provided they meet certain criteria. This includes mild symptoms and the ability to isolate yourself from the rest of the household.

In view of the shorter incubation period of the Delta variant, Singapore will also shorten the quarantine period for people locally exposed to the coronavirus.

Singapore has reported more than 70,000 confirmed Covid cases and 57 deaths since the beginning of last year, according to the Ministry of Health.