People will only be allowed to gather in groups of five people under tightened measures from May 8, 2021. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE – Rules on social gatherings will be tightened starting this Saturday (May 8), as Singapore takes stricter measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 in the wider community.

Firstly, people will only be allowed to gather in groups of five people, down from eight now. These restrictions also apply to households, which will only be able to receive five distinct visitors a day, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Tuesday (May 4).

In addition, more people will be required to work from home. Under the new rules, no more than 50 per cent of employees who are able to work from home should be in the office at any one time, down from 75 per cent at present.

Employers should also continue to stagger start times of employees who need to return to the workplace, and implement flexible working hours. Social gatherings at the office should be avoided as well.

These measures will be in place until May 30.

Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the task force tackling the pandemic, noted that the new restrictions will essentially see Singapore move back to phase two of its reopening. But this is not a circuit breaker, he stressed.

“We certainly hope not to have to invoke another circuit breaker,” he said. “But we have proposed quite a stringent and tight set of measures, so that we can respond robustly and preemptively to the latest outbreak of clusters and do our best to snuff them out early, and reduce the likelihood of having to impose more drastic measures down the road.”

Although the stricter measures only kick in this weekend, the minister urged Singaporeans to start doing their part with immediate effect.

This includes scaling back social interactions and getting vaccinated if medically eligible, he said.

Mr Wong noted that the authorities have tried their best to ringfence the cases caused by Covid-19 variant strains through contact tracing, but “we must assume that there are still hidden cases out there in the community”.

Safe management measures therefore have to be tightened across the board, to address the risk posed by the variant strains which are more infectious and likelier to cause large clusters of coronavirus cases, he added.

There is a good chance of getting the situation under control, if people follow the tightened measures that are in place till May 30, Mr Wong said.

To minimise the risk of large clusters forming, the authorities will also reduce the maximum number of people allowed at events such as live performances at designated venues and pilot business events from 750 to 250.

Capacity limits at museums and public libraries will be reduced as well, from 65 per cent to 50 per cent.

In addition, indoor gyms and fitness studios will be closed till May 30 as these are considered “higher-risk settings”, said MOH.

No spectators will be allowed at sports events as well, the ministry added.

The deadline for mandatory check-ins at venues using either the TraceTogether (TT) app or token at venues for contact tracing will also be brought forward to May 17 from June 1, to bolster contact tracing efforts.

The new measure will apply to all places where digital check-ins are required, including shopping malls, workplaces, places of worship, schools, educational institutions as well as dine-in eateries.

This means people will no longer be allowed to digitally check in by scanning a venue’s SafeEntry QR code with their phone camera or the Singpass app from May 17. Scanning of barcodes on personal identification cards to check in to venues will still be allowed until May 31.

Asked why the tightened measures will only take effect from May 8, Mr Wong said businesses will need some time to make the necessary adjustments.

But there is no need to wait till then, he said, urging people to scale back their activities immediately.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who also co-chairs the task force, cautioned against having a “big pow wow” ahead of the stiffer rules kicking in.

Text: Linette Lai/The Straits Times