COVID: Dine-in to be scaled back to groups of 2 from 19 July

People eat outdoors before restrictions on outdoor dining kicks in on Sunday, due to the surge in coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases in Singapore May 14, 2021. REUTERS/Caroline Chia
People eat outdoors in Singapore on 14 May, 2021. (Reuters file photo)

SINGAPORE — From next Monday (19 July) through 8 August, those who are not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can only dine in at eateries alone or in pairs.

This cap will be strictly enforced, regardless of vaccination status, at hawker centres, food courts, and coffee shops.

The announcement by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Friday comes just days after dining restrictions were relaxed on Monday.

However, some are allowed to continue to dine in groups of up to five at other types of eateries. They include fully-vaccinated patrons, persons who have recovered from COVID-19 within 270 days, and those under 12 years old.

"An individual is considered fully-vaccinated two weeks after he or she has received two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty or Moderna vaccines," said the MOH. As such unvaccinated individuals with a valid negative pre-event test (PET) result or recovered individuals are of similarly lower risk, and may also join in such groups of five, it added.

As children below the age of 12 are currently ineligible for any COVID-19 vaccine in Singapore's national vaccination programme, authorities will allow a concession for members of the same household to dine together with their unvaccinated children aged 12 years and below, without the need for pre-event testing for the children due to potential challenges.

"This whole group should not exceed five persons. If the children are not from the same household, then they should constitute not more than half the dine-in group," the ministry added.

This means that, for instance, in a group of three with two adults dining in with a child below 12 years old, both adults must be fully vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 within 270 days. If both adults are unvaccinated, they must have valid negative PET results for the duration covering their dining activities.

Individual food and beverages (F&B) establishments will have the flexibility to decide whether to introduce the vaccination-differentiated group sizes, depending on their own operating model and clientele and their ability to check the status of dining-in individuals, said the MOH.

It noted that participating F&B establishments have put in place systems to check the vaccination statuses of patrons, but did not specify which.

As for the fixed cap on hawker centres, food courts, and coffee shops, the ministry said that these premises "have a more porous setting" and generally do not impose mandatory safe-entry check-ins, noting that it would be very challenging to implement vaccination status checks there.

Entertainment such as live performances, recorded music, and videos or TV screening, will continue to be prohibited at F&B establishments.

What is Singapore's posture?

Addressing reporters at a virtual press briefing by the multi-ministry taskforce (MTF) on COVID-19, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that the key determinant of Singapore's posture on safe management measures posture will be the capacity of intensive care units (ICU) in its hospitals.

Ong noted that the country has around 1,000 ICU beds, while only one COVID patient is currently in the ICU. "If at any point in time, we see that the capacity is under pressure, we will need to tighten up, hammer the transmission to preserve our capacity and proper functioning of our hospitals."

Alluding to other countries where ICU cases have doubled every week, Ong said it was not "unthinkable" for ICU capacity in Singapore to be breached within five weeks, leading to a system collapse. "By the third week, if we see the numbers go up, action has to be taken quickly and rewind us back to at least Phase 2 (Heightened Alert)."

ICU numbers will depend on two factors: age, and whether one is vaccinated. Ong noted that there are currently 140,000 unvaccinated seniors above 70, who are most vulnerable. Alluding to last year's case spike in foreign worker dormitories, he added, "The dorm workers are young and they did not put pressure on our healthcare system very much. We could shield them away from our seniors."

With the KTV cluster, some of the patrons remain unknown, and may have possibly infected unvaccinated parents and grandparents.

On vaccination rates, Ong said that based on current bookings, around half of Singapore's population will be fully vaccinated by sometime next week, ahead of schedule.

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