Over the coming weeks, Singapore's tighter circuit breaker measures will be progressively eased, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce announced on 2 May 2020.

In a press release by the Ministry of Health (MOH), the taskforce noted that the country is preparing for the safe and gradual resumption of economic and community activities after the end of the circuit breaker period on 1 June 2020. When activities resume, the Government will continue tapping on digital solutions such as the SafeEntry check-in system, and deploying them more pervasively.

While community transmission has dropped by more than half, there remain unlinked cases in the community and new clusters may form if we let our guard down. Hence, the Government must be cautious in how restrictions are lifted and put in place further safeguards even as that is done.

This involves the following:

Gradual reopening of work premises

The reopening of work premises will be phased according to their importance to the economy and supply chains, their contribution to local employment, and their ability to minimise risks of transmission at their workplaces.

To do so safely, more stringent requirements will be imposed on all employers and firms.

During the press conference announcing the measures, Minister Lawrence Wong, Co-chair Of The Multi-ministry Taskforce said: "We have always talked about workplace safety and health. Now, workplace safety and health must take into consideration safe distancing, and the whole range of safe management practices that are critical to prevent the spread of the virus within work premises. There are many things that workplaces, employers and firms will have to do."

For example, he said, employers should make sure:

  • The staff at work are physically spaced out when they are working;
  • There is no mixing of staff across different teams when they are deployed at different sites;
  • There is no gathering of staff, be it at the pantries or during lunch breaks.

"(There are) quite a number of requirements (that) will have to be put in place. We are working out the specific measures, and we will engage the industry associations and business chambers so that they can put in place all of these requirements, (which) will be strictly enforced before we can allow work premises to be opened up and more workers start coming back to work," Wong added. 

Further details on the specific workplace measures will be announced by the Ministry of Manpower, Ministry of Trade and Industry and relevant agencies in due course. 

Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said in a Facebook post: "As we work towards progressively opening up our economy, we will ensure that the health and safety of our people remain our top priority, but we recognise that their livelihoods are equally important. The approach that we take will need to balance both carefully."

He added that while some sectors will open up earlier than others, the Government will begin reaching out to all companies on how to put in place the measures required to resume operations.

"We want to give them time to plan and do the necessary so that they will be able to implement the measures in an efficient and effective manner."

In a virtual press conference attended by ST, he noted that beyond the circuit breaker, the Government needs to continue being vigilant to avoid the risk of a relapse of the situation. He said: "As we progressively reopen up our economy, we need to be able to detect quickly and isolate effectively."

He added that part of that strategy means that those who are able to work from home should do so for the foreseeable future.

Gradual resumption of selected activities and services

The Multi-Ministry Taskforce will also allow the gradual resumption of selected activities and services in the coming weeks, subject to the necessary safe management measures being in place.

From 5 May 2020: 

  • Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) needle acupuncture will be allowed, for pain management only (excluding cupping, moxibustion, guasha and tuina manipulative therapies), if assessed by the TCM practitioner to be essential. TCM halls with registered TCM practitioners will also be allowed to sell retail products. This is on top of the consultation and herbal dispensary services which they are already allowed to provide.
  • Residents living in strata-titled residential buildings may exercise within the common areas of these private residential developments such as footpaths, but must continue to practise safe distancing measures. In other words, the same rules that apply in public areas will also apply within the common areas of these developments. Enforcement officers will conduct periodic checks and inspections, and the Management Corporations (MCST) and Managing Agents should also do their part to ensure compliance with these measures. All sports and recreational facilities within these private residential developments such as playgrounds, pools, gyms, barbecue pits and club houses are to remain closed.

From 12 May 2020, the following will be allowed to resume operations:

  • Manufacturing and onsite preparation of all food, including cakes and confectionery, ice cream, cocoa, chocolate and chocolate products, and other snacks;
  • Retail outlets of food, including cakes and confectionery, packaged snacks and desserts, may be open for takeaway and delivery only;
  • Home-based food businesses may operate, but only for delivery or collection. Home-based private dining will not be allowed. Delivery and collection of food orders should be done in a safe and contactless manner, by appointment so that it can be spaced out, and there is no bunching of people. Details will be provided separately;
  • Retail laundry services;
  • Barbers and hairdressers, for basic haircut services; and
  • Retail of pet supplies.

The list of activities that will be allowed to operate, and relevant further information, will be updated here

For more details of safe distancing measures for food & beverage establishments, click here.

For more details of safe distancing measures for retail establishments, click here.

Students slowly brought back to school

While learning has continued virtually, the taskforce recognises the anxiety amongst students and parents of graduating cohorts, who have to take the national examinations this year.

Hence, from 19 May 2020, schools will bring back students from graduating cohorts in small groups for face-to-face consultations and lessons. Priority will be given to students requiring school facilities for coursework and practical sessions, and those who need additional support and remediation during the school vacation period.

Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), especially the Institute of Technical Education, will also bring back small groups of students on campus for critical consultations, projects or practicums. The return to schools and IHLs will be staggered throughout the day and safe distancing and safe management measures will be practised, such as keeping to separate groups within their cohort.

Foreign worker SHN extended

As of 1 May 2020, the Stay-Home Notices (SHN) for Work Permit holders, S Pass holders, and their dependents in Singapore’s construction sector have been extended from the current 4 May 2020, by another 14 days to 18 May 2020 2359 hours.

This will help to cover another incubation cycle in order to break the cycle of transmission, as confirmed by Minister of Manpower (MOM).

During this period, employers continue to be urged to look after their workers well, in terms of making arrangements for delivery of food (or groceries to enable cooking) and other daily essentials; ensuring workers consult a doctor immediately when unwell; and as far as possible, isolating unwell workers as a precautionary measure.

The only exemption applies to employers who have been approved by BCA for their foreign workers to carry out essential services during the SHN. Such foreign workers granted exemption are allowed to leave their places of residence only to perform essential activities.

To support foreign workers further, MOM has shared details of the Inter-agency Task Force (ITF), which comprises more than 2,200 officers from six public agencies, including the MOM, SAF, Home Team, MOH, BCA and MCI. ITF has recruited an additional 710 personnel directly or through private contractors. In total, the Government is dedicating staff support of nearly 3,000.

To date, more than 170 Forward Assurance and Support Teams (FAST) teams have been deployed to support the dormitory operators and residents. These personnel look into all aspects of the workers’ well-being, from the availability of food and maintenance of hygiene to facilitating their medical care and remittance needs.

Another important aspect of their work is to optimise safe distancing measures for the workers. Teams are often deployed in shifts to provide 24/7 round-the-clock support.

Leveraging technology to enable safe resumption of activities

Even after the circuit breaker period ends, there will likely still be some cases in the community. To quickly contact trace and isolate close contacts of these infected individuals, the taskforce will leverage technology such as the SafeEntry system and TraceTogether app.

To carry out contact tracing quickly and effectively should the need arise SafeEntry will log the names, NRIC/FINs and mobile numbers of individuals visiting hotspots, workplaces of essential services, as well as selected public venues.

Users check-in by scanning a QR code displayed at the venue with their phone, or by having any identification card with a barcode scanned e.g. NRIC, driver’s licence, student pass and work permit.

To further support contact tracing efforts, SafeEntry must be deployed extensively across Singapore, especially at places with a higher risk of non-transient contact. This would include workplaces, malls and supermarkets.

From 12 May 2020, all businesses and services that are in operation must come on board the SafeEntry system to log the check-in and check-out of employees and visitors.

Places with transient populations on-the-move, such as MRT stations and parks, will not have mandatory SafeEntry checkpoints. However, QR codes will be put up, and the public is encouraged to scan in so they may be reached should the need for contact tracing arise. 

The taskforce noted that contact data collected by SafeEntry is only used by authorised personnel for contact tracing purposes, and stringent measures are in place to safeguard the data in accordance with the Government’s data security standards.

Details of the list of venues for deployment will be announced in the next few days.

The government is also working on improving digital tools to enable speedier contact tracing. In the meantime, it encourages more Singaporeans to download and actively use the TraceTogether app. The app uses Bluetooth proximity data to establish close contact between two users.

The government is also looking into solutions for groups like the elderly and the young who do not have smartphones. More details will be announced in the coming weeks.

Social responsibility is critical

Even as the circuit breaker measures are gradually lifted, social responsibility is critical in slowing the spread of COVID-19. The taskforce urged everyone to continue staying at home as much as possible, and minimising movement outside the home. In the community and at workplaces, good habits must be kept up, such as safe distancing, personal hygiene and the wearing of masks. This must be the new normal in a COVID-19 world. 

Additional measures to reduce risk of COVID-19 exposure at homes serving the elderly

In other related news, the MOH and Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will implement additional support measures for all homes serving the elderly to further reduce the risk of COVID-19 exposure for staff and residents. These include nursing homes, welfare homes, sheltered homes and adult disability homes (“Homes"). All Homes will continue to implement safe distancing and infection control measures in full compliance with previous advisories.

The Multi-Ministry Taskforce has been steadily building up our national capacity to conduct tests for COVID-19, in tandem with a comprehensive medical strategy to ensure that individuals infected with COVID-19 receive prompt and quality medical treatment.

Given that Homes serve highly vulnerable and frail seniors, who are at higher risk of developing serious health complications if infected with COVID-19, MOH and MSF will prioritise testing for residents and staff in all homes serving the elderly.

This will ensure that any COVID-19 infections in the Homes are detected as early as possible for treatment, as well as to limit transmission. This new support measure complements existing measures on safe distancing and movement restrictions within the Homes, which had been put in place earlier.

MOH commenced COVID-19 testing from 29 April 2020 and target to complete the tests by next week, while MSF commenced the tests from 30 April 2020 and will complete them by 2 May. Prior to this, active testing for COVID-19 has been carried out for symptomatic residents and staff who developed Acute Respiratory Infection or fever.

The Ministries will be providing full funding support for the costs of all tests, and all follow-up treatment that is required.

This broad-based testing will be complemented by further measures to reduce the exposure of staff and residents to COVID-19 infection risks in the community. This includes ensuring resident-facing staff who enter and leave the Homes daily have a protected living environment to minimise the chances of them contracting the virus and bringing it into the Homes.

The ministries are working with the Homes to facilitate lodging for staff who interact with residents of Homes at designated accommodation facilities on-site or at hotels, to reduce their exposure to the community during the circuit breaker period (which ends on 1 June 2020). If the Home is unable to house staff on-site, the ministries will arrange for staff to stay at hotels and provide funding for the accommodation and for the Homes to provide meals, dedicated transport and daily necessities for the staff.

MOH will also provide support for nursing homes to enhance onsite accommodation spaces to improve safe distancing, where necessary. A S$500 allowance will be provided to affected staff to assist them with the transition for the current measures.  

 Photo / 123RF

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