COVID-19: Parliament implements social distancing measures at sittings

Wan Ting Koh
·Reporter
·3-min read
Screenshot of Singapore Parliament during Budget 2019. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore)
Screenshot of Singapore Parliament during Budget 2019. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — Parliament announced enhanced measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 among members ahead of its sitting on Wednesday (25 March).

The move comes after the government announced stricter measures on Tuesday to deal with the coronavirus, including closing all nightspots and entertainment venues from 11.59pm on Thursday until 30 April.

Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin said ahead of Wednesday’s sitting that, with immediate effect, Members of Parliament (MPs) will be seated at spaced intervals, both within the Chamber and spread out over two floors.

Visitors and any media personnel at the galleries will similarly sit at spaced intervals.

To further reduce mingling, MPs will also use different routes to access the Chamber and their respective meeting rooms.

Tea breaks will also be held in separate groups and at different locations in the House. The different groups will also use separate restrooms.

First time such measures are put in place

Tan noted that this was the first time such measures have been put in place in Parliament.

“It is not business as usual. As we deal with COVID-19, we will face varying degrees of inconveniences and disruptions to our daily lives, our routines, and even our economy, which has a very real impact on all Singaporeans,” he said.

“Yet we must take all precautionary measures seriously and fully comply with them to prevent its further spread.”

Tan noted that Singapore has dealt with a similar situation before with SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and H1N1.

Measures extend to staff and visitors

In a press release issued on Wednesday, the Office of the Clerk of Parliament said that the measures in Parliament extend to the staff at the Secretariat and to all visitors to the House.

“Since early February, Parliament has steadily stepped up the necessary precautions in line with all Government advisories issued,” it said.

“The measures include having the temperature of all staff and visitors screened before entry, requiring them to declare their overseas travel history, and maintaining a contact list for all visitors.”

Parliament has since also split their workforce into separate teams and implemented measures such as telecommuting, staggering working hours, splitting shifts and working from separate locations within the House.

It has also reduced and set limits on the number of students for the educational tours of the House.

“Parliament will continue to keep abreast of all advisories as part of our regular review of business continuity plans, and to see if further precautionary measures are needed for forthcoming sittings as well as other proceedings and services,” the press release said.

Stricter measures against COVID-19 pandemic

As part of the stricter measures announced on Tuesday, all events and gatherings, regardless of size, must be deferred or cancelled. Gatherings outside of work and school are to be limited to 10 people or fewer at any time.

Retail malls, museums and attractions, may remain open but only with precautionary measures in place, including reducing operating capacity within each venue, dispersing congregations, and providing digital alternatives to queuing or waiting.

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