Addressing the nation on 21 April, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has announced that the ongoing Circuit Breaker will be extended by another four weeks, until 1 June 2020.
He shared that this will ensure the country is able to bring the community numbers down, as well as help to make progress and consolidate efforts.
In addition, the following key measures were announced:
- More workplaces will be closed so only the most essential services will remain open, in efforts to minimise transmission among workers. Thus, the list of essential services will be tightened. [Details below]
- The government will continue to help businesses and workers cope during the extended Circuit Breaker through new and ongoing support measures. [Read more]
- From 21 April 2020, more than 62,000 employers will benefit from close to S$675 million in the first wave of levy rebate payouts. [Read more]
- Hotspots such as popular wet markets and hawker centres will be imposing entry measures to thin out the crowd, even as shoppers are urged to complete their marketing on weekdays rather than weekends. [Read more]
- Mid-year school holidays will be brought forward: 5 May 2020 to 1 June 2020. [Read more]
In commencing his speech, PM Lee thanked the nation’s residents for their efforts in adjusting to the circuit breaker measures, including those who are working-from-home as well as managing home-based learning. However, he noted that despite the measures, total case numbers have risen sharply.
He affirmed: “In the wider community, the Circuit Breaker is starting to have effect, with the number of cases having fallen in the recent days.
“But we cannot afford to be complacent. But we cannot afford to be complacent. We must press on, to bring down daily infections more sharply, to single digit, or even zero.”
Pointing out the number of unlinked cases hasn’t come down, PM Lee noted this trend suggests there is a “larger, hidden reservoir of cases” in the community; thus the measures that are being taken.
He concluded with a note to the industry: “Many will be disappointed by the extension of the circuit breaker. Especially our businesses and workers, who are hurting greatly. But I hope you understand that this short-term pain is to stamp out the virus, protect the health and safety of our loved ones, and allow us to revive our economy.”
Details on closure of more workplaces and tightening of essential services
As such, the move will allow the nation to cut back the workforce who still have to commute daily, from the current 20% to 15%, by making cuts across all sectors of the economy, but also in businesses that are consumer-facing including in F&B and other services.
To take an example, standalone outlets within the F&B industry will be required to close, such as outlets that sell only beverages, packaged snacks, confectioneries or deserts. Hairdressing and barber shops will also be required to close.
Additional restrictions will be placed on selected consumer-facing businesses to further reduce customer interactions. These would include optician shops which will be allowed to only operate on appointment basis.
He explained: “This is important because when we analysed the local infected cases that occurred after the circuit breaker, many of them have been working as part of essential services or have family members who are working; because, these are the people who are still out and about.”
These measures entail the following implications for employers:
- Businesses that are customer facing will have a tighter definition of what is allowed under F&B, and either suspend or place restrictions on selected businesses to further reduce interactions. The affected businesses will be notified by the Ministry of Trade and Industry.
- Businesses which can continue operating at their work premises must register their workers who are required to work on-site. The number of workers permitted to work on-site will be reduced to the minimum needed.
- For workplace premises which remain open, employers must put in place effective measures to avoid transmission of COVID-19 at and across workplace premises. These include not allowing teams working in different locations to interact physically with one another, implementing safe distancing measures at every workplace premise, and ensuring workers wear masks at the workplaces.
- All workplaces will also be required to have a system that logs their workers’ entry into, and exit from, their workplaces. Employers can consider using a digital check-in application called SafeEntry for this purpose.
- Enforcement agencies will increase the number of inspections of workplace premises which remain open, and will take firm action against non-compliant workplaces. First-time offenders will be issued composition offers of S$1,000, and repeat offenders will face higher fines or prosecution in court.
- Businesses will be required to suspend their operations should a cluster of infection arise among their staff working on the premises.
For the full list of tightened essential services (and the exlcusions), please refer to page 8 of this document.
In a press conference held immediately after PM Lee’s speech, Minister for Manpower, Josephine Teo announced further measures to be taken in the dormitories:
- MOM has completed the pull-out of essential workers and housed them separately, and they will now be required to stop going to work – this is applicable to workers from all companies, including those that have earlier obtained exemption to operate.
- With Ramadan around the corner, timely pre-dawn and breakfast meals will be provided to Muslim workers. The guide on religous observances has also be updated to reflect Ramadan religious practices under the period of social distancing.
- Stay-home notices in construction sector – This was decided to be done as contact tracking efforts suggested that interactions at worksites could have contributed to the rise in infected workers. Therefore, this is a proactive precaution.
She noted that MOM is very thankful to the affected workers for their cooperation and understanding in making the necessary adjustments.
Deputy Prime Minister, Heng Swee Keat, also spoke at the conference, where he assured that key measures from the solidarity budget will be extended into May, such as the 75% wage support for employers. This will be applicable for all sectors. Further, the foreign work levy will be waived for the month of May.
Further, DPM Heng urged business leaders to do their best to retain their workers and make full use of the training and upgrading grants for capabilities during this period.
Photo / PM Lee’s Facebook