COVID-19: 'New normal' of Phase 3 could last over a year – Gan Kim Yong

Wan Ting Koh
·3-min read
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong speaking at an MTF press conference on 20 October 2020. (PHOTO: MCI)
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong speaking at a multi-ministerial taskforce on COVID-19 press conference on 20 October 2020. (PHOTO: MCI)

SINGAPORE — Phase 3 of Singapore’s reopening could potentially last a year or more and would not be a return to pre-COVID-19 status, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said in Parliament on Wednesday (4 November).

The “new normal” of Phase 3 would last until the rest of the world has the virus under tight control or when effective treatments or vaccines are widely available, he added.

Gan was replying to a question by Member of Parliament (MP) Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC), who asked about the possibility of Phase 3 starting by end-December, and what factors are considered when deciding on the maximum number of people allowed for events. She also asked about safeguards to be put in place should activities resume on a larger scale and should there be a spike in the number of infections.

In response, Gan said that in determining capacity limits for events in Phase 3, the government took into account the frequency of activities, the potential risk factors inherent to the nature of events and whether additional safety measures can be effectively put in place to mitigate any risks.

Analysis has shown that the probability of transmissions is typically higher in social settings, said Gan, who cited examples of the Safra Jurong dinner and the Mei Hwan Drive Chinese New Year gathering earlier this year, when large COVID-19 clusters had formed.

“It is natural to lower our guard when we are among family and friends, when we have meals together, the risk is higher, as masks must be removed while eating and drinking. Many of us go out for meals practically everyday, and with different groups the risk is multiplied many times,” the minister said.

The authorities are hence taking a “cautious approach” in expanding group sizes and are considering increasing group sizes from five to eight in Phase 3, he said.

While social gatherings of any size pose a risk of COVID-19 transmission, banning them for prolonged periods was "not tenable nor desirable”.

Hence, there is a need for “a careful balance” between allowing gatherings of up to eight and maintaining safe distance in Phase 3, he added.

On weddings, Gan described them as “high risk” as friends and families would have the tendency to want to socialise. Noting pleas to raise the limit on the number of guests for weddings, Gan said there was a need to put in place additional measures, such as preventing guests from mingling beyond their groups of five and ensuring they use SafeEntry and TraceTogether.

Gan stated, “Should there be a spike in cases, we need to respond swiftly and decisively. We cannot rule out the need to reimpose measures or introduce new measures in order to keep the virus under control.”

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