COVID-19: One-third of Singapore workers able to resume work on-site from 2 June

SINGAPORE — About a third of Singapore’s workforce will be able to return to their workplaces from 2 June as the country further eases its circuit breaker measures, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing on Tuesday (19 May).

The industries that will be allowed to re-open in Phase 1 include manufacturing and production, finance, insurance, wholesale trade – excluding those with retail shop fronts – transport and storage professional services.

Selected services such as motor vehicle servicing and account servicing will also be allowed to open, said Chan.

However, he stressed that the government “will continue the maximum work from home arrangements”

Currently, about 17 per cent of workers in essential services are working onsite during the circuit breaker period, which started on 7 April, including those in the precision manufacturing, biomedical, petrochemical sectors, said Chan, who was speaking at a virtual press conference by the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce.

Most companies – save for essential services and key economic sectors – were ordered to close their workplaces as part of enhanced safe distancing measures till 1 June.

Only those who require the use of machinery and specialised terminals or need to complete legal documentation will be able to return to their workplaces. Workers who need infrequent access to the workplace for information or materials can already do so on an existing time-based exemption.

“The rest of the workers will continue to work from home. This will allow more than three-quarters of our economy to resume their normal operations,” Chan noted. Last Friday, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) announced that about 10 per cent of the construction workforce will resume work in a controlled manner in phases by June.

Chan also spoke about the three key considerations in allowing the reopening of more businesses in phases after the end of the circuit breaker period. First, authorities would make sure that the health and well being of workers are taken care of.

“Second, we will progressively, first resume, those activities that have a lower risk setting in a controlled environment. For example, those that have limited or no interactions with the public and those sectors that are in a static control environment that can put in the necessary safe management measures,” he explained.

The third consideration would be to open critical sectors with significant economic linkages, both domestically and externally, Chan added.

The minister warned that the re-opening of such companies and businesses is subject to the fulfillment of five criteria, including implementing strict safe distancing measures, as well as cleanliness and hygiene standards, in order to ensure a safe workplace.

Companies – for instance, those in office settings that are not linked to international trade – are also strongly encouraged to stagger their work hours to help minimise peak hour transport congestion in the morning.

“If there is an outbreak in a particular company, we will have no choice but to shut down either their operations or that part of the operations,” said Chan.

To put in place the required safe working measures, the Ministry of Trade & Industry (MTI) would work with the respective companies and trade associations.

From 2 June, class exemptions for businesses that are allowed to open – with no additional approvals required – will be issued by the ministry, said Chan.

Companies will be required to submit their manpower details within two weeks of resuming operations, with the number of workers required on-site to be kept to a minimum.

More information and the website for the submission of such details will be announced next week, he added.

“We urge all companies to practice management practices, so that they minimise the number of workers required on-site to the smallest number possible,” said Chan.

“We will benchmark the various companies across the same industries and sectors. If the manpower numbers are excessive, we will reach out to the company to understand their requirements and to review how we can better support the company, and adopt a higher telecommuting workforce.”

Actively prepare for resumption, upcoming ministerial statement by DPM

Chan also urged companies that have not scheduled to reopen in Phase 1 to begin active preparations. In particular, the retail and food & beverage sectors will need to start thinking about putting in place additional measures in order to safely resume business operations.

To this end, a taskforce has been formed, guided by Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry Chee Hong Tat, he added. It is working with the Singapore Retailer Association and the Restaurant Association of Singapore.

Other companies, such as those in the social entertainment sector, will require a new business model as their pre-COVID activities are unlikely to resume as per normal, noted Chan. In this regard, the MTI will help Singapore companies digitalise their business processes.

“It has been trying and challenging times over the last few weeks,” said the minister.

“But we want to assure the business community, that we will continue to walk this journey with them, not just to put in place measures to tide over the short term difficulties, but just as importantly, to put in place, measures to help them to transit to the new normal or the new equilibrium.”

Support for businesses that are unable to open during Phase 1 will be among the additional help measures to be announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat when he delivers his ministerial statement in Parliament next Tuesday, said National Development Minister and taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong.

Heng’s statement comes after he unveiled three budgets earlier this year to help workers, companies and households adapt to the challenges of the pandemic.

“This will be the fourth Budget in the year, so it is really unprecedented – and we are doing all we can to support businesses and workers.” added Wong.

No talking to each other, on the phone on public transport

As Singapore gradually re-opens its economy or schools, public transport operators will ramp up their capacity in order to meet the increase in demand as more people commute to and fro, noted Wong.

But he acknowledged that authorities have “fully expected” the difficulty in maintaining physical distancing in public transport, such as trains or buses, when more people are out and about going to work or school.

“During the peak periods, maybe not for the entire route, but in certain journeys for certain bus routes or MRT routes, it will be difficult to maintain physical distancing,” Wong said.

Authorities will instead focus on other “safe management measures” for commuters on public transport, including the wearing of masks and requiring commuters not to speak to one another or to speak on the phone, “so that they can avoid spreading droplets while they are in an enclosed space”, he added.

In a Facebook post on the same day, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan also warned that from 2 June, trains and buses will be more crowded especially during peak periods, making it difficult to maintain a safe physical distance.

“Fortunately, with low community spread in Singapore, the risk to commuters is also low,” he noted. The number of new cases in the community has decreased from an average of six cases per day in the week before, to an average of three per day in the past week.

Khaw said authorities will reduce the risk further in two ways on public transport, with operators stepping up their cleaning regime and adopting anti-microbial chemical coating on all high-touch surfaces – similar to the coating applied in Changi Airport – and requiring commuters to wear masks during their journey.

“Commuters can further protect fellow commuters by not talking loudly, either to one another or on their phones. Above all, stay home if you feel unwell,” he added.

The press conference was held on the same day that the Ministry of Health (MOH) reported 451 new COVID-19 cases in Singapore to date, bringing the total to 28,794.

Stay in the know on-the-go: Join Yahoo Singapore's Telegram channel at

Related stories:

COVID-19: Singapore to exit circuit breaker period, resume activities over 3 phases

COVID-19: Up to 2 children, grandchildren can visit seniors per day from 2 June

Primary, secondary and pre-u students to return to school in 2 phases from 2 June

Places of worship to reopen for small group prayers, in-person marriage solemnisations to resume