However, all workers will still "continue to take the necessary precautions such as mask-wearing, and where required, donning of personal protective equipment and undergoing Rostered Routine Testing."
In the instance an employee in Singapore has not been vaccinated against COVID-19, it will not be necessary to re-deploy them in order to reduce exposure to the virus, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has stated. This, he noted, is unless a resurgence in the number of local cases occurs.
Minister Gan said this as part of his ministerial statement on Monday (4 January), in response to a query by Member of Parliament (MP) Yip Hon Weng on the topic.
The minister further noted that all workers will still "continue to take the necessary precautions such as mask-wearing, and where required, donning of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and undergoing Rostered Routine Testing (RRT)."
"That said, there may be specific cases such as researchers or laboratory staff working directly on the COVID virus or those who face very high risk of exposure to infected individuals. MOH and MOM are reviewing the issue of vaccination of workers in such workplace settings and will provide advice later."
Apart from the above, Minister Gan shared a series of updates on the vaccination programme in Singapore, with highlights summarised as follows:
- The Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination, comprising professionals in infectious diseases, immunology and other relevant fields, has studied the available data on the vaccine, reviewed the reports from the Health Sciences Authority (HSA), deliberated at length and considered carefully safety and efficacy aspects of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The Committee has concluded that the vaccine meets the safety and efficacy requirements of the World Health Organization and other international regulatory authorities, as well as that of Singapore's own HSA.
- It recommended that everyone who is medically eligible should be vaccinated so that Singapore can achieve as high a level of vaccination coverage as possible. Vaccinations should however be voluntary. The Government has accepted these recommendations in full.
- A high level of vaccination coverage will maximise protection for the population, and minimise the proportion of persons still susceptible to COVID-19. This will in turn reduce the risk of large outbreaks, and continue to keep community cases low, allowing further re-opening of the economy and resuming more normal social activities.
- The Minister assured that Singapore has secured enough vaccines for all Singaporeans and long-term residents in Singapore.
- The vaccines will arrive in batches, given high global demand especially from countries with high rates of infection. Pharmaceutical companies will also need time to scale up vaccine production and distribution. Following the first shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at the end of 2020, more deliveries are expected in the next few months, including from Moderna and Sinovac. If all goes according to schedule, the country will have enough vaccines for everyone by Q3 2021.
- As recommended by the Expert Committee, priority will be given to groups that are most at-risk. This is also consistent with the World Health Organization’s guidance, and similar to what other countries are doing.
- This will begin with the healthcare workers and staff working in the healthcare sector as they work in direct care of patients or in supporting roles.
- The government will also prioritise COVID-19 frontline and other essential personnel, including swabbers hired by Health Promotion Board, staff working at the Government Quarantine Facilities, Community Care Facilities, and dedicated Stay-Home Notice facilities.
- It plans to start vaccinating the elderly and those at greater risk of severe disease from COVID-19 infection starting from February 2021, beginning with seniors aged 70 and above; and also prioritise others who are in jobs or settings where risk of a super-spreading event is high, such as the construction, marine and process (CMP) sector, including migrant workers.
- Thereafter it will progressively broaden the vaccinations to include other Singaporeans and long-term residents who are medically eligible.
Minister Gan concluded: "Vaccinations will be a key enabler for us to return to normalcy. We have secured enough vaccines for the whole population. Every vaccine approved for use will meet all our safety and efficacy requirements. I strongly encourage all Singaporeans and long-term residents to get vaccinated when the vaccine is offered to you, to protect yourselves and your loved ones.
"This will be the key focus of the Multi-Ministry Taskforce over the next few months. Let’s all do our part, so that we can overcome and emerge stronger."
In other ministerial updates, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo has responded to a couple of queries raised by MPs, on topics including support for nursing mothers in Phase Three, and the referral process involving TAFEP in cases of workplace harassment.
On the first topic, MP Rachel Ong asked how can companies be encouraged to support nursing mothers in Phase Three of the re-opening and beyond in the set-up of lactation rooms in private workplaces, following the closing of Work Life Grant applications in August.
To this, Minister Teo shared that under the Code on Accessibility in the Built Environment, owners of specific building types that are frequented by the general public are required to provide at least one lactation room. These include offices and business parks. All new buildings as well as existing buildings undergoing addition and alteration works that need building plan approvals from the Building Construction Authority (BCA) have to comply with the Code.
She added: "To meet the needs of workers, including nursing mothers, for flexible work arrangements (FWAs), MOM will continue to support the implementation of FWAs, including work-from-home (WFH). In 2019, about 85% of employers offered some form of FWA. During COVID-19, WFH was further normalised with many more employers implementing them."
At the same time, the minister noted that the tripartite partners will also be progressively implementing recommendations made by the Citizens' Panel on Work-Life Harmony in 2020, which include developing an FWA implementation guide and sector-specific Communities of Practice on FWAs.
These, she said, will provide support to companies in implementing and sustaining FWAs in and beyond the new normal.
Separately, MP Raeesah Khan raised a question on the setting up of a referral process for TAFEP to have oversight of all workplace harassment cases, if this has been completed; as well as data on the matter.
In response, Minister Teo shared that since 2019, TAFEP has been the main centre for employers and employees to seek recourse and also resources for workplace harassment, and that works with other community and tripartite partners, encouraging them to refer cases of workplace harassment to it.
Depending on the cases, TAFEP works with the victim and employer to adjust work arrangements and provide closure to the victim. In more severe cases that might be considered offences under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) or the Penal Code, victims are advised to lodge a police report, wherein TAFEP will provide the necessary support such as guidance on civil remedies, as well as social and emotional support at organisations such as the Family Service Centres, Health Promotion Board and SOS Singapore.
Minister Teo added: "As it is important for companies to give proper redress to staff grievances and address unacceptable practices quickly, TAFEP also works with employers to put in place proper grievance handling procedures."
Between January 2019 and October 2020, TAFEP handled around 80 cases of workplace harassment. About one in five were related to sexual harassment, while others were related to verbal abuse, bullying and physical abuse at the workplace.
Photo / 123RF