COVID-19: Senior-centric group activities with maximum of 5 participants can resume

TO GO WITH AFP STORY "Lifestyle-Singapore-housing-society,FEATURE" BY Idayu Suparto This photo taken on March 22, 2010 shows two Singaporean retirees play checkers  at the void deck of a public housing block in Singapore. Standing in two rows with knees bent, 10 men slowly pushed their palms out against a slight breeze during a Chinese "tai chi" martial arts session on the ground floor of a public housing block. In similar places across the island, Malay weddings were taking place and Indian children shared playgrounds with kids from other races, including the occasional white boy or girl from expatriate families renting public flats.AFP PHOTO/ROSLAN RAHMAN (Photo credit should read ROSLAN RAHMAN/AFP via Getty Images)
Seniors playing chess in Singapore. (AFP via Getty Images file photo)

SINGAPORE — Seniors will now be able to participate in senior-centric programmes run by selected organisers, as long as participant numbers are kept to a maximum of five and social-distancing measures are in place.

At a virtual media conference on Wednesday (9 September), co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong announced that such small group activities organised by People’s Association, Health Promotion Board, Sport Singapore, and the Council for Third Age will be allowed to resume on the same day.

These activities – including board games and group exercise classes – can also resume in eldercare facilities such as nursing homes, senior care centres, active-ageing hubs, and senior activity centres.

But singing classes will not be allowed to be resumed as it is considered a high-risk activity for COVID-19 transmission, Gan said.

“For the seniors, group activities are an integral part of the seniors-centric programmes, as they help address our seniors’ psychosocial needs and contribute to their overall well-being,” he added.

Gan added that proactive outreach by Silver Generation ambassadors; senior activity centres; community resource, engagement, and support teams; and diabetes outreach activities will also resume from Wednesday.

In a press release, the Ministry of Health (MOH) noted that “while health and social care services are available, some seniors may not know where to seek help and may have deferred accessing community care services”.

“During this COVID-19 pandemic, some seniors may be hesitant to go for medical appointments for fear of being exposed to COVID-19 at healthcare institutions or care facilities,” the ministry added.

“To avoid potential deterioration of their medical conditions and allow for timely attention to other health needs, we urge seniors to continue to attend their medical appointments.”

The MOH assured seniors that healthcare providers “would have put in place the necessary precautions for patients to access services and receive treatments safely”.

Reopening workplaces; tightening enforcement for dining breaches

Education Minister and taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong said authorities are also looking at ways to allow more employees to return to work safely.

“The issue is not just about the numbers of people going back to work as what they had used to do before COVID-19,” said Wong.

“But it's also about more flexible workplace hours because we really need to have a good part of workers travelling in the off-peak hours after 9.30am,” he added.

With that, the risk of large crowds gathering – be it in public transport, public spaces, and office buildings – would be reduced, Wong said.

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is working with tripartite partners on such arrangements, he noted, as part of the next phase of safe management measures for workplaces.

Wong also spoke about breaches of safe management measures at food and beverage (F&B) outlets, typically at popular nightspots.

“You would see people drinking after 10.30pm, finding all sorts of ways to disguise their alcohol, but we catch them anyway,” he noted.

Examples of other frequent breaches include patrons not wearing masks and gathering in groups of more than five and intermingling across multiple tables in private rooms.

As such, enforcement agencies will be stepping up spot checks and enforcement actions, said Wong.

Instead of issuing a warning to a first-time offender, they would either enforce appropriate penalties, such as a fine or ordering the closure of the venue.

“Up to now, the approach by enforcement agencies has been to issue a warning for a first-time offender. But I think enough time has transpired for the entire F&B industry as well as for diners to understand what the rules are and to comply with them,” Wong explained.

Overall, Singapore remains in Phase 2 of its reopening and authorities will continue to look at ways to resume more activities safely, he added.

But the expanded resumption of activities hinges on controlling the infection and complying with existing measures, Wong stressed.

He pointed out, “Because if we are not even able to keep to the existing measures, then why even talk about further liberalisation or easing which will cause more problems down the road?”

“We understand that there is some fatigue with these measures, but it is very important that we all continue to keep our guards up; comply with the existing measures.”

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