In his address to the nation on 3 April (Friday), Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced “significantly stricter” safe-distancing measures to be taken, following the recent spike in locally-transmitted COVID-19 cases in the country.

While Singaporeans have done their part to keep the outbreak under control, he said, looking at the trend, he was worried that unless further steps were taken, things “will gradually get worse.”

“I discussed this with the Multi-Ministry Task Force. We have decided that instead of tightening incrementally over the next few weeks, we should make a decisive move now to pre-empt escalating infections. We will, therefore, impose significantly stricter measures.”

These were part of what he called a “circuit breaker”, from 7 April to 4 May 2020. “It will help reduce the risk of a big outbreak occurring. And it should also help to gradually bring our numbers down. This, in turn, will allow us to relax some of the measures.”

The points most relevant to HR and employers have been summarised below:

Most workplaces will be closed, except for essential services

With the exception of essential services, most workplaces will be shut for a month, from 7 April onwards.

This means all employers outside of essential services/key economic sectors should facilitate full telecommuting while those in essential services should adhere to the safe-distancing measures implemented by the Government.

In addition to this list of essential services provided by the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), others listed by the Public Service Division, including national security, law and order, regulatory enforcement, government communications, public healthcare services, transportation, foreign affairs and embassy services, border control, civil defence, critical infrastructure, utilities, greenery and animal management, and environmental services will continue.

For businesses in this category, employers should take conscious steps to reduce physical interactions by doing the following, MTI shared:

  • Reducing the need and duration for physical interactions;
    Staggering work hours;
    Postponing all group events; and
    Implementing shift work and/or split-team arrangements.

In light of the above, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has said in a statement it will begin enforcement operations from 7 April, to ensure only businesses who are exempted from the suspension are operating from their workplace premises.

For employers with affected workers who can’t work from home or from the workplace, it said employers should work out “clear salary and leave arrangements, based on the principle of shared responsibility”, with the employee. Such arrangements should take into consideration the government support for wages and any subsidies for training.

The statement added: “This is a big adjustment for employers. To support businesses through this period, the Government will announce additional support that will include enhanced wage support for businesses, further financing help, and help for households. More details will be made available shortly.”

SHN requirements extended to more countries, effective end 5 April

Apart from the above, the Government has also extended the country’s stay-home notice (SHN) requirements, to further curb the risk of community transmission from imported cases.

From 2359 hours on 5 April (Sunday), all Singapore Citizens, Permanent Residents, and Long Term Pass holders returning from ASEAN countries, France, India and Switzerland will be required to serve a 14-day self-isolation at dedicated SHN facilities.

This arrangement will continue to apply to returnees from the UK and US, the Ministry of Health stated.

It added: “The countries are chosen based on our assessment of risks and the history of imported cases in Singapore. For those who are coming back from other countries, they can serve their 14-day SHN at their place of residence.

“The Multi-Ministry Taskforce will continue to monitor the dynamic and evolving COVID-19 situation, and work closely with the private sector to adjust our capacity of SHN facilities accordingly.”

Additional measures taken at foreign worker dormitories

With 120 new COVID-19 cases announced in Singapore yesterday (5 April), two dormitories were identified as large clusters of concern – S11 Dormitory@Punggol (63 cases in total), and Westlite Toh Guan (28 cases in total).

Following this, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce has declared these two dormitories as isolation areas, with close to 20,000 foreign workers involved.

For companies providing essential services, who have workers affected by the quarantine order, MOM will provide support and arrangements to ensure they can still go on,

Further, the affected workers will continue to be paid for the duration of the quarantine, with their period of absence from work to be treated as paid hospitalisation leave, as part of eligibility under the Employment of Foreign Manpower Act. Their employers are eligible to claim for the S$100 daily quarantine allowance.

Photo / Screengrab of PM Lee’s speech on 3 April, PMO’s website