COVID-19: Singapore to ease some circuit breaker measures starting next week

SINGAPORE — Singapore will be progressively relaxing its circuit breaker measures in the coming weeks, and allow the resumption of certain businesses and activities amid a slowdown in community transmissions, the multi-ministry taskforce for COVID-19 announced on Saturday (2 May).

Health Minister and taskforce co-chair Gan Kim Yong cited signs of a decreasing number of community COVID-19 cases. The average daily number of new cases in the community has dropped by more than half, from 25 in the week before, to 12 in the past week. But he cautioned that there are still unlinked cases in the community and new clusters may yet form.

Addressing a a virtual media conference, Gan noted that any reopening needs to be done cautiously, and if there is an emerging trend of new transmissions, the government may have to reinstate the measures.

National Development Minister and taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong added, “The bottom line is this: this is not the time to slacken and let our guard down.”

“We may be easing some measures, but we must stay disciplined and vigilant. If there is no necessity to go out, then stay home. Go out only for absolutely essential activities. Refrain from going out in groups, even if it is people within your own household.”

Wong added, “We want to call on Singaporeans and residents in Singapore, not to take this as a signal that now we can slacken, we can go out and the battle is won. It is far from over. It is going to be a long fight, and the virus can flare up again any time.”

Business to resume operations from 12 May

Circuit breaker measures that are to be relaxed include allowing traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) needle acupuncture for pain management, if assessed by the TCM practitioner to be essential, on Tuesday (5 May). TCM halls with registered TCM practitioners will also be allowed to sell retail products. This is on top of the consultation and herbal dispensary services which they are already allowed to provide.

From 12 May, the following will be allowed to resume operations:

  • Manufacturing and onsite preparation of all food, including cakes and confectionery, ice cream, cocoa, chocolate and chocolate products, and other snacks;

  • Retail outlets of food, including cakes and confectionery, packaged snacks and desserts, may be open for takeaway and delivery only;

  • Home-based food businesses may operate, but only for delivery or collection. Home-based private dining will not be allowed. Delivery and collection of food orders should be done in a safe and contactless manner, by appointment so that it can be spaced out, and there is no bunching of people;

  • Retail laundry services;

  • Barbers and hairdressers, for basic haircut services; and

  • Retail of pet supplies.

A full list of these businesses will be released later on Saturday.

Gradual re-opening of work premises, with stricter guidelines

For work premises, the government will also phase in gradual re-openings from 12 May, but with stricter guidelines within workspaces.

“For example, making sure that staff at work are physically spaced out, no mixing of staff from different teams, no gathering of staff at the pantries. This must now be an integral part of any work operations,” said Wong, who cautioned against employees letting their guard down.

“They start to socialise at the pantry, they go out for lunch breaks in groups, and then again, they let their guard down. So even within a workplace setting, all of these precautions and safeguards have to be put in place to ensure that such activities do not happen.”

One specific requirement upon reopening of work premises is that all businesses and services that are opening up from 12 May must put in place the SafeEntry app, to log the check-in and check-out of employees and visitors, so as to speed up contact tracing.

At places with transient populations on-the-move such as MRT stations and parks, there will not be mandatory SafeEntry checkpoints. However, QR codes will be put up, and the public are encouraged to scan in, so that they may be reached should the need for contact tracing arise.

Some students will be brought back to schools

Students will also be brought back to schools for selected small group lessons from 19 May, with the initial focus on the graduating cohorts that are taking national exams.

Priority will be given to those who require school facilities for their coursework and practical sessions, and those who need additional support during the school vacation period.

Institutes for High Learning, especially the Institutes of Technical Education, will also bring back more groups of students for critical consultations and practicums.

Walking, exercising within condos to be allowed

Meanwhile, some activities which are prohibited within residential grounds, such as walking and exercising, will also be eased from 5 May. Residents living in strata-titled residential buildings may exercise within the common areas of these private residential developments such as footpaths, but must continue to practise safe distancing measures.

This means the same rules that apply in public areas will also apply within the common areas of these developments. Enforcement officers will conduct periodic checks and inspections, and the Management Corporations (MCST) and Managing Agents should also do their part to ensure compliance with these measures.

However, all sports and recreational facilities within these private residential developments such as playgrounds, pools, gyms, barbecue pits and club houses are to remain closed.

Meanwhile, the restriction on daily movement of migrant workers in and out of all dormitories will be extended to the end of the circuit breaker period until 1 June, in order to minimise further community transmission of COVID-19.

Both Wong and Gan repeatedly stressed that plans for relaxing circuit breaker measures are fluid and dynamic, and may need to be further adjusted depending on the situations which unfold in the coming days and weeks.

How long will this go on?

The taskforce was also asked for its view on the reopening of places of worship such as churches and temples, and how long extended lifestyle changes such as social distancing might go on for. In response, Wong did not answer the former directly but said that “high touch, close contact activities” would be the last to resume.

“It is really very hard to predict how long some of these basic precautions should be in place for,” said the minister. “The kinds of activities that we will want to refrain from are any kinds of close contact with people. So any premise, any event, any activities that entails large groups gathering in close proximity, I think that those sorts of settings will have to wait for quite some time before they can be resumed. I don't know exactly when.”

Wong concluded, “This is the nature of the infection, whenever there is close contact, interactions with people. That's how the virus will spread. So we have to be very careful about that.”

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