SINGAPORE, June 10 — From June 14, the maximum size of social gatherings and the number of distinct visitors to households in a day will be increased to five from the current two.
And “if the situation remains under control” after this, dining-in at food-and-beverage (F&B) establishments will resume from June 21, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) today as it laid out a two-step plan of gradually reopening Singapore under Phase Three (Heightened Alert).
This follows one month of tighter restrictions under Phase Two (heightened alert).
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said that as Singapore moves out of this phase in the coming weeks, working from home will remain the default requirement.
The ministry added that it “remains essential that we continue to keep transmission risks in check by reducing overall footfall and interactions at common spaces at or near the workplace, and in public places, including public transport”.
Announcing the relaxing of safe distancing measures at a press conference today, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who is co-chair of the Government’s Covid-19 task force, said: “It’s not quite the full Phase Three. We call this Phase Three (heightened alert) because there are still these restrictions in place.
“And that’s because we are reopening in a cautious and controlled manner, and maintaining very strict controls at our borders. We need all of these controls in place until our vaccination rates are higher.”
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, who also co-chairs the task force, said: “We managed to break the chain of transmission, I think, and control this wave of transmission, without a painful circuit breaker (to halt most activities)”.
However, he noted that Singapore is “not totally out of the woods” as the seven-day moving average for Covid-19 cases is still 11.9 and needs to be lowered further.
Even as the maximum size of social gatherings has increased, MOH said that people should continue to limit their social circle to a small group of regular contacts and not have more than two meet-ups in a day.
The resumption of dining-in at F&B outlets from June 21 will come with stronger enforcement by the authorities to detect any breaches of regulations.
MOH said that F&B outlets should make sure that diners do not dine in groups of more than five, and that each group is at least 1m apart from each other to mitigate the risk of transmission between unmasked individuals.
Wong said he understands that F&B owners are disappointed that they can resume operations only on June 21.
“I would ask all of them to take, make use of the one week to really go through their processes, their protocols, and make sure that your restaurant layouts comply fully with the rules, that diners, when they come in, will be 1m apart at least, and have good ventilation in their restaurants because we know that these are high-risk settings,” he added.
On the continuing default setting for working from home, MOH said that it was important to reduce interactions.
“Employers must ensure that employees who are able to work-from-home do so, continue to stagger start times of employees who need to return to the workplace, and implement flexible working hours. There should continue to be no cross-deployment of workers to multiple worksites,” MOH said.
When asked how Singapore could reopen borders given that cases will likely emerge, Wong said that more targeted safeguards could be designed based on the infection situation in the location the traveller has arrived from, as well as his or her vaccination status.
“It’s no longer about, you know, going after each and every infected case because it is very likely that even if a person were to be infected, despite having the vaccination, the breakthrough infections result in mild or even asymptomatic treatments, so we need different protocols for such cases,” he added.
Ong said that Singapore’s considerations for opening are no longer tied to daily infection numbers as much as before.
Instead, it is looking increasingly at the capabilities it has built in suppressing every cluster, as well as in testing, quarantine, contact tracing and vaccinations.
“So I think these are some shifts that you start to see. And then, I really hope we are putting the circuit-breaker (to halt most activities) as a tool behind us… in future, with capabilities like these, we don’t have to resort to big sledgehammer approaches like circuit breakers,” he said. — TODAY