SINGAPORE – Singapore will simplify its safe management measures from next Tuesday (March 15), as the Omicron wave has likely peaked and Covid-19 cases are falling.
The streamlining, which was earlier announced but deferred due to a surge in cases, will cover five areas: group sizes, mask-wearing, workplace rules, safe distancing and capacity limits.
Should the pandemic situation change, these parameters will be tightened or relaxed across the board. Other restrictions – such as the blocking-off of public seating areas – will be lifted, given that they do not have a big impact on the virus’ spread.
Announcing the new date on Friday (March 11), Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong stressed that the changes do not represent a broader easing of rules. Rather, they are meant to make the rules easier for businesses and individuals to understand, and encourage a greater sense of personal responsibility, he said.
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung noted that the seven-day moving average of local Covid-19 cases had peaked at 18,300 cases on Feb 26, and has come down gradually to 16,300 as at Thursday.
The weekly infection growth rate was 0.93, meaning that case numbers are going down and will halve in four to five weeks.
But the Ministry of Health (MOH) expects this number to go down further in the coming days, Mr Ong said.
Around 90 per cent of Covid-19 cases in Singapore now are of the BA.2 Omicron subvariant, up from 15 per cent in mid-February.
The streamlining of rules means the maximum permitted group size for social gatherings remains at five. Households will also be allowed to host five guests at any one time.
A 50 per cent capacity limit will be set for large events and settings with more than 1,000 people, such as attractions, cruises, conventions, performing arts venues and sports stadiums.
One of the biggest changes is that team sports for up to 30 people will be allowed to resume from March 15 at selected venues, given that there has been no clear evidence that transient contact while playing sports leads to infections.
Explaining the latest changes, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong noted that several existing rules are not consistent. For instance, people are not allowed to eat with their colleagues in the office, but can do so if they go to a hawker centre.
“That’s what we are trying to get at – to simplify, streamline and remove these inconsistencies,” he said, stressing that the changes do not amount to a relaxation of rules.
The plan to simplify the country’s safe management measures, which would pave the way for a broader easing of restrictions, was first outlined on Feb 16 by the multi-ministry task force handling the pandemic.
But a week later, the authorities announced this plan would be put on hold, given a surge in Covid-19 cases which saw long lines forming at general practitioners’ clinics.
Mr Ong noted that while the intensive care unit utilisation rate is currently well within capacity, normal hospital wards – and especially the emergency departments – remain overloaded.
The cases that public hospitals attend to have come down from 3,000 to 2,800 daily but the number remains very high, he added.
Mr Ong then outlined measures to ease the load on hospitals, including transferring an average of 470 patients per day to Covid-19 treatment facilities and private hospitals.
The task force also announced an easing of rules for migrant workers, with up to 15,000 vaccinated workers permitted to visit public places on each weekday, and up to 30,000 on each of the weekends and public holidays.
This is up from the current quota of 3,000 and 6,000 in either situation.
In addition, passengers arriving via quarantine-free travel lanes, as well as those from low-risk places need to only self-test – instead of doing supervised antigen rapid tests – within a day of their arrival.
This move paves the way for upcoming changes to Singapore’s border measures, where fully vaccinated travellers will generally not need approval to enter Singapore and will undergo simplified test requirements, the MOH said.
Mr Gan said the authorities will continue to monitor the Covid-19 situation closely.
“And when the situation improves and healthcare capacity permits, we will be able to take the next step in easing our safe management measures.”
Text: Linette Lai/The Straits Times
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