UPDATE: The Ministry of Health released more details on the post-circuit breaker measures for seniors in a media release on 22 May including on testing for staff of non-residential care services
SINGAPORE — Singapore will exit its COVID-19 circuit breaker period after 1 June in a controlled approach, resuming activities over three phases to ensure public safety.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong announced the phased exit measures during the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce media conference on Tuesday (19 May), with the daily number of new community cases having declined significantly from over 30 cases in mid-April to just three in the past week.
“We have been progressively easing some of the restrictions since 5 May, taking a cautious step-by-step approach as we continue to closely monitor the number of new cases in the community,” he said.
The migrant workers dormitories situation has also stabilised, with the large clusters in the dormitories prevented from spreading to the wider community, he added.
However, Gan, who is also the taskforce co-chair, cautioned that with more activities and interactions allowed after the circuit breaker period, Singapore is likely to see a rise in new community cases.
“What is critical is our ability to detect and contain these cases quickly, and prevent large clusters from forming,” he said.
“More importantly, our re-opening plans will not be a return to life before COVID-19. We must get used to a new normal, with the widespread adoption of safe management measures and technology so we can carry out our daily activities safely.”
National Development Minister and taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong noted that Singapore is “now ready to exit the circuit breaker. And we can now start planning to resume activities safely and in a phased manner”.
“I know Singaporeans will be disappointed; many have been hoping that with the end of the circuit breaker, they will be able to go out freely, to socialise with their friends, to meet their families and relatives and even dine together.
“Unfortunately, all of these activities will have to wait, and I hope everyone understands why this is necessary,” said Wong.
“We have to do this in a very careful and calibrated manner, because we do not want to risk a flaring up of the virus again. And importantly, we do not want to sacrifice the efforts that all of us have put in over the past few weeks in controlling the outbreak.”
Phase 1: safe re-opening
Phase 1 is expected to last around “four to six weeks” from 2 June, depending on how the situation evolves and may stretch longer, said Gan.
“Minimally, we will have to look at 28 days (two incubation cycles) before we think about additional relaxations, or moving into Phase 2,” he added.
No major shifts are likely to occur within the first four weeks because authorities need time to assess the impact of the introductions of measures in the first phase before moving on to the next, Gan said.
In this phase, Singapore will first resume economic activities that do not pose a high risk of transmission. Social, economic and entertainment activities that carry higher risk will remain closed.
Singaporeans should continue to leave home only for essential activities and should wear a mask when doing so. As seniors are a particularly vulnerable group, they should continue to stay at home as much as possible.
More Singaporeans will be allowed to return to work, starting with businesses that operate in settings with lower transmission risks. Most manufacturing companies and offices can re-open, but with telecommuting adopted to the maximum extent.
Each household will be allowed to visit their parents or grandparents staying elsewhere. Each receiving household should limit such visits to only one per day, and to not more than two persons who must be from the same visiting household.
As part of this policy, dropping off children at parents’ and grandparents’ homes for childcare will also be allowed, subject to the same limit of two visitors from the same visiting household per day.
Marriage solemnisations will take place in-person again, involving up to 10 persons. Places of worship can re-open for private worship, with up to five members of the same household praying together at any one time. Families can continue to gather for wakes and funerals, with no more than 10 persons at any one time.
Preschools will gradually re-open by levels from 2 June, with full resumption by 10 June, so that young children can be cared for safely while their parents return to work. Students from graduating cohorts in the primary and secondary levels will attend school daily, while other cohorts will rotate weekly, alternating between Home-Based Learning (HBL) and returning to school for lessons.
Healthcare services such as specialist outpatient services, medical procedures, allied health services, community-based services, and chronic disease management will resume, prioritised by healthcare providers based on medical necessity and available capacity.
The current measures limiting the scope of senior services and senior-centric activities will remain, in order to protect senior citizens. However, Senior Activity Centres will gradually resume some activities in a safe and controlled manner, to address the psychosocial well-being of seniors with little or no social support.
In a media release on 22 May, the Ministry of Health said it had conducted tests for all staff of residential care homes earlier and testing of all residents is underway. The MOH said it will also conduct tests for staff of non-residential care services: designated eldercare centres and day hospices, kidney dialysis centres, and home care providers.
Phase 2 (Safe Transition) and Phase 3 (Safe Nation)
Phase 2, described by Gan as “transitional” and less certain than the first, is likely to involve multiple steps – relaxing some measures while lengthening others.
As such, it will take place over “months”, he stressed. “It may take three or six months, depends – it may take longer depending on how the situation evolves,” Gan said.
Singapore will move into Phase 2 where more activities are gradually resumed if the community transmission rates remain low and the dormitory situation remains under control during the weeks-long Phase 1.
In Phase 2 (Safe Transition), social activities in small groups are expected to be allowed.
More firms and businesses, starting with F&B dine-in and retail outlets, gyms and fitness studios, and tuition and enrichment centres, will gradually be allowed to re-open, subject to safe management measures and the businesses’ ability to also maintain a safe environment for their customers.
Depending on the situation, all students can fully return to school and Institutions of Higher Learning (IHLs) will increase the number of students back on campus at any one time for face-to-face learning.
Sports, recreation and outdoor facilities will also start to re-open, subject to safe management practices for both facility staff and users being in place.
Depending on the COVID-19 situation and the authorities’ risk assessment, measures will continue to be eased gradually until Singapore reaches a new normal in Phase 3 (Safe Nation), a “sustainable long-term” state at which it expects to remain until an effective vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is developed.
Wong said, ”Entering Phase 3 that brings us to what we call a new normal. (It) is not a return to life before COVID-19. We envisage that many of the things that we are used to can continue, but there will be new controls safeguards and limits.”
In this phase, social, cultural, religious and business gatherings or events would have resumed, although gathering sizes would still have to be limited in order to prevent large clusters from arising.
Seniors would be able to resume day-to-day activities while practising safe distancing measures and avoiding peak period travel, crowded places and large groups.
Services and activities that involve significant prolonged close contact (e.g. spas and massages) or significant crowd management risk in enclosed spaces (e.g. cinemas, theatres, bars, pubs and nightclubs) would also have been allowed to re-open, subject to their ability to implement strict safe management measures effectively.
Wong noted that baseline precautions that will continue throughout the phases, include practising basic personnel hygiene, safe distancing measures, and wearing of masks.
Public transport, overseas travel
With more people returning to work and school, it will be difficult to maintain physical distancing between public transport commuters, especially during peak periods.
Commuters will thus be required to wear a mask, refrain from talking to one another or on their mobile phones, and maintain good personal hygiene. Transport operators have also stepped up the cleaning of buses and trains and will use anti-microbial chemical coatings on exposed surfaces.
Singapore will also gradually re-open its borders for Singaporeans to conduct essential activities overseas and to allow safe travel for foreigners entering or transiting through Singapore. It will do so in a careful manner with the necessary precautions and safeguards.
For example, Singapore is currently exploring the possibility of piloting green lane arrangements with a few countries assessed to be at an equivalent or lower risk of community transmission as Singapore, for which essential travel in limited numbers and with safeguards, could be conducted safely.
Singapore will continue to expand its COVID-19 testing capacity with the ability to diagnose cases early, screen all individuals at risk, and protect the more vulnerable groups. It will also speed up contact tracing to identify and isolate close contacts of infected persons. It will also ensure sufficient healthcare capacity to deal with any potential surges in COVID-19 cases.
“The multi-ministry taskforce will keep a very close watch on the situation. I want to caution that we may have to tighten some measures in a targeted way to transition to the next phases,” Gan said during the media conference.
“If everyone, including employers and individuals, maintains a high level of vigilance, is socially responsible, and adheres to the measures to introduce, we can progress with caution to resume some degree of normalcy.”
Additional reporting by Wong Casandra
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