COVID-19: All events, gatherings with at least 250 attendees here suspended until end-June

Nicholas Yong
Assistant News Editor
Commuters wear face masks on the MRT train as a preventive measure against the COVID-19 coronavirus on 18 March, 2020. (PHOTO: AFP via Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — From now till end-June, all events and gatherings with 250 or more participants in Singapore must be suspended, as part of enhanced social distancing measures to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

This is an expansion of the previous requirement announced last Friday that all ticketed cultural, sports and entertainment events with 250 participants or more must be deferred or cancelled.

The latest curb and other enhanced measures advised for public venues and workplaces were announced at a press conference led by the COVID-19 Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) on Friday (20 March).

For events and gatherings with fewer than 250 participants, organisers and event venue operators are required to implement the necessary precautions to ensure separation of at least one metre between attendees.

These include spaced seatings at events, and reducing mingling of participants. They must also comply with existing guidance, including improving ventilation, putting in place health screening measures as well as those to help facilitate contact tracing.

When asked about the penalties for flouting the requirement, MTF co-chair Lawrence Wong said that there will be escalating penalties. “All of these venues have licenses. You can have fines, you can withdraw the license entirely and they will not be able to operate. So the agencies will be on top of this and they will go and enforce across all venues.”

Public venues

The MTF also said that operators of public venues are required to implement precautionary measures to ensure separation of at least one metre between patrons.

These include ensuring that queues are kept fast-moving by opening all checkout counters and encouraging self-checkout to minimise contact with counter staff.

Operators are encouraged to demarcate queues to ensure patrons queue at least one metre apart from one other.

Chairs are marked with red tape at a hawker centre in Singapore as authorities implement social distancing measures to combat the coronavirus on 19 March, 2020. in Singapore. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

Food and beverage venues should also maintain a distance of at least one metre between tables and seats. Where seats are fixed, including hawker centres, operators should ensure alternate seats are marked out.

Entertainment venues and attractions – such as cinemas, theme parks, casinos, museums and galleries – should adopt measures appropriate for their venues to similarly ensure at least one metre of separation between patrons.

This could include reducing operating capacity to provide more spacing, installing floor markers at queuing areas, and adopting chequerboard or alternative seating.

“It’s not an advisory. It’s not an option. It’s mandatory,” stressed Wong, who is also the Minister for National Development. He acknowledged that the measures would come at “significant cost” to F&B outlets, as reduced capacity will be required to adhere to the new measures.

But Wong added, “Doing this doesn’t mean you have to cook and eat at home. You can still go out and support your favourite hawker stall or restaurant. But if the place is full, then tabao (takeaway).”

People studying in a public library are seated apart as part of social distancing measures on 19 March, 2020, in Singapore. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

Workplaces

The taskforce strongly advised employers to reduce close physical interactions among staff and facilitate them working from home. Instead of physical meetings, teleconferencing should be used where possible, it added.

For jobs where telecommuting is not feasible, the taskforce advised employers to stagger work hours such that staff report to work in at least three one-hourly blocks, and do not report and end work during peak-hour travel periods.

Employers should also reduce the duration and proximity of physical interactions, and space work stations at least one metre apart. They should also defer non-critical events and scale down critical work events.

Noting that the new measures amounted to a “major change” in Singaporeans’ daily lives, Wong said that the MTF hopes to eventually set new social norms that are sustainable.

“It cannot just be business as usual,” said Wong. We would like to see, when all of these measures are in place, fewer people out and about. We don’t want to see crowded venues. We don’t want to see packed event halls.”

Wong said the MTF urged Singaporeans to co-operate with the authorities as they enforce the enhanced measures.

“They will lead to some inconvenience, but we need Singaporeans to co-operate and take responsibility for these changes. If we are disciplined about this, it will enable us to take better control of this situation and suppress and slow down the virus.”

Extended suspension of senior-centric activities

To continue safeguarding seniors’ wellbeing, the MTF also extended the suspension of all senior-centric activities at community clubs, residents’ committees, Senior Activity Centres, Active Ageing Hubs, CREST Centres, Health Promotion Board and ActiveSG sports centres for another two weeks until 7 April. National Silver Academy courses and volunteer programmes administered by the Council for Third Age will also be suspended. These activities had been suspended since 11 March.

The MTF also advised all organised activities that involve physical interactions among seniors - including courses, events, performances and gatherings - to be suspended from 22 March till 7 April. Organisers should put in place extra precautions in preparation for the resumption of organised activities after 7 April, it said.

The MTF encouraged seniors to continue being active, such as by viewing exercise, singing and cooking activities online. But it advised them to avoid crowded places as far as possible and to be vigilant in maintaining good personal hygiene.

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