Singapore's circuit breaker updates, guidelines on celebrating Hari Raya during COVID-19

Singapore's circuit breaker updates, guidelines on celebrating Hari Raya during COVID-19

- With input from Aditi Sharma Kalra

In line with the gradual easing of Singapore's Circuit Breaker measures, the government has released several updates. They include guidelines on safe working and safe living, the gradual resumption of construction work, more support for firms in healthcare, education, and fintech.

In addition, the upcoming Hari Raya celebrations this week, various guidelines have been released by the Singapore and Malaysia government on celebrating Hari Raya safely.

Click here to jump straight to each update:

Singapore emphasises 'Safe Working and Safe Living' as Circuit Breaker eases

As Singapore moves towards gradually easing Circuit Breaker measures, the country places a twin emphasis of "Safe Working and Safe Living" to reduce the risk of subsequent waves of infection, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) revealed in a press release.

Safe working

To prevent the re-emergence of community cases as workers return to work, the tripartite partners issued Requirements for Safe Management Measures at the workplace last week. Employers allowed to resume their operations are required to implement these measures to protect their workers.

At the same time, Enterprise Singapore released a set of sector-specific Safe Management requirements, such as for food and beverage (F&B) establishments, retail establishments, shopping malls, F&B and online retail delivery and for consumers.

The Economic Development Board has also established Safe Management Measures for the manufacturing sector and will be doing the same for the marine and process sectors.

Similarly, the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), in consultation with relevant Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs), has issued a set of COVID-Safe Restart Criteria for the resumption of construction work.

Safe living

The Inter-agency Task Force (ITF) set up to manage the Covid-19 situation at the dormitories previously announced the designation of specific Blocks for Recovered Workers (BRWs) to house recovered workers who will be returning to their dormitories.

Since then, more than 2,000 beds in BRWs have been created. By today (18 May 2020), all 43 dormitories are expected to have about 5,400 beds.

As these dormitories fill with recovered workers and workers who tested negative for COVID-19, dormitory operators, employers and workers have to strengthen dormitory management practices and accept necessary changes to their way of life, so that workers can live in dormitories safely.

These changes will impact the workers’ movements, and how they interact and socialise with one another. The three changes include:

#1 Tighter control of entry & exit

A BRW will be physically segregated from the rest of the dormitory. When a BRW has been occupied by recovered workers or workers who tested COVID-negative, entry and exit of its occupants will be allowed in a carefully regulated way. Dormitory operators will be required to track all movement in and out of the dormitories.

For a start, residents from BRWs will only be permitted to leave for the purpose of work and must return to the BRW after work. This is conditional on their workplace being allowed to operate, and the implementation of Safe Management requirements.

Once the outbreak in the dormitory has been brought under control, it will be possible to consider allowing residents from BRWs to also leave the dormitory for non-work reasons. But the workers will still need to adhere to the prevailing safe distancing measures, which also apply to the rest of the community in Singapore. More details will be shared on a later date.

#2 Limit intermixing of workers

Dormitory operators will have to put in place measures to limit intermixing of workers, so as to minimise the risk of transmission.

The measures include: 

  • Setting up barriers and marked routes from dormitory blocks to common areas and entrances to prevent intermixing of workers from different blocks.
  • Requiring residents to stay within their level and rooms within each block. 
  • For dormitories without en-suite toilet facilities, dormitory operators should mark out specific showers, wash basins, and toilets for occupants of the same room.
  • Assigning stoves in communal kitchens to individual rooms.
  • Having designated waiting areas for workers leaving and returning from work. 
  • Implementing staggered pick-up times and drop-off timings.
  • Reduce human traffic in communal areas.
  • Minimarts, canteens and shops must operate contactless ordering, such as through calls, text messages or online ordering.
  • Provide residents timeslots to use communal facilities such as kitchens and outdoor recreational areas.

#3 Remaining vigilant

Residents will continue to be tested regularly. They will have to report their temperature, oxygen level and heart rate daily. The daily report sick routine will have to be sustained. Residents who are unwell will have timely access to medical support from the onsite or regional medical posts, as well as tele-kiosks.

If a resident is tested COVID-positive, close contacts of the infected worker should be isolated or quarantined expeditiously either in onsite or community isolation facilities. Aggressive testing will be done to cut transmission chains.

Many of these measures are already implemented at the dormitories during this period of isolation. The ITF and MOM will work with the Dormitory Association of Singapore, and dormitory operators to ensure they continue to be implemented effectively.

Workers to continue adhering to Circuit Breaker measures as SHN for construction workers not living in dormitories end 

Earlier on 20 April, construction work permit and S-pass holders and their dependants, were placed on SHN. The SHN will end on today (18 May 2020) at 11.59 pm, by which time the workers and their dependants would have served 28 days of self-isolation.

After the SHN, these workers have to continue to adhere strictly to circuit breaker measures, in line with what the rest of the community is subject to. At the same time, employers are required to keep MOM updated should there be any change to the registered addresses and mobile numbers of their workers.

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Gradual resumption of construction work in Singapore from 2 June 2020

Construction work will be allowed to resume in a controlled manner in phases after the COVID-19 circuit breaker period ends on 1 June 2020, the BCA announced in a press release

Since the circuit breaker period began on 7 April 2020, most construction work has been suspended. Currently, only about 5% of the construction workforce are working on very small number of critical infrastructure projects, and those that have to continue for safety reasons.

After the Circuit Breaker ends, from 2 June 2020, BCA will gradually allow more construction projects to resume.

Projects that will be given priority would be those that cannot be left idle for too long due to safety concerns, and critical and time-sensitive projects, such as MRT and Deep Tunnel Sewerage System (DTSS) tunnelling projects. Previously suspended residential renovation works will also be allowed to resume.

BCA expects about another 5% of the construction workforce to gradually resume work in the month of June (i.e. a total of 10% of the construction workforce).

However, all works will require approval from BCA before they can restart. Migrant workers in the construction industry must be tested before they are allowed to return to work. In addition, construction projects must put in place adequate safe management measures.

At the same time, employers will be required to demonstrate their ability to meet the following three COVID-Safe restart criteria before projects are allowed to restart:

  • COVID-Safe Workforce: e.g. employers to establish a system to track the daily health status of workers, and to manage workers’ interactions on rest days; regular COVID-19 testing for the workforce.
  • COVID-Safe Worksite: e.g. worksites to use national digital check-in system SafeEntry to record all entries and exits; strict safe management measures to be enforced at worksites to prevent outbreaks, such as segregating workers by teams into different work zones, and having staggered breaks.
  • COVID-Safe Worker Accommodation and Transport: e.g. cohorting of workers by projects at their places of accommodation; providing dedicated transport between work sites and places of accommodation.

BCA is working closely with the industry and the relevant Trade Associations and Chambers (TACs) to develop these criteria.

To check that resumed projects are strictly observing COVID-Safe practices, an Audit and Inspection regime will be implemented, BCA will share more details in about a week’s time. 

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Looking to digitalise? Healthcare and education SMEs in Singapore get a new benefit

Teleconsultation for healthcare SMEs and remote learning management system (LMS) for education SMEs are among the new support measures announced by Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and Enterprise Singapore (ESG) to help manage the impact of COVID-19.

These pre-approved solutions under the SMEs Go Digital programme qualify for up to 80% subsidy from the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) until 31 December 2020. These are on top of the 17 April announcement to offer new pre-approved remote working solutions that are bundled with laptops, to support businesses with their work-from-home arrangements.

“Digitalisation will continue to be an important enabler for all businesses even after COVID-19. We are happy to collaborate with industry partners to support our SMEs to go digital and adapt to the new normal,” said Jane Lim, Assistant Chief Executive, Sectoral Transformation Group, IMDA.

Ted Tan, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Enterprise Singapore, added: “We hope these digital solutions that support the delivery of services to customers virtually will enable our healthcare and education businesses to continue running their operations, and help retain their workers.”

More on the teleconsultation (video) solutions for the healthcare sector

Due to the need to minimise movement and the safe distancing measures put in place due to COVID-19, healthcare institutions and doctors across the acute, primary and intermediate and long-term care sectors are starting to incorporate live video consultation into their practice.

As such, to make such technological solutions more accessible to healthcare practitioners and institutions, IMDA and ESG have worked with the Ministry of Health to pre-approve three teleconsultation (video) solutions under PSG. More solutions will be added over time.

Learning management system for the education sector

To support education centres and CET providers in delivering online education content for their learners effectively, IMDA and ESG have worked with SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) and the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) to pre-approve two Learning Management Systems.

Education centres and CET providers can use these solutions to create native online content, take and record attendance digitally, as well as issue digital certificates. They can also deliver both online and blended (mix of online and classroom) learning programmes to cater to the varied needs of different learners.

Similar to other pre-approved solutions, SMEs can apply for PSG support through the Business Grants Portal. The pre-approval of these solutions are in line with IMDA’s call for businesses to “Stay Healthy, Go Digital”.

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FinTech terms get a $6mn boost to maintain operations and continue to innovate and grow 

Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), Singapore FinTech Association (SFA), AMTD Group and AMTD Foundation (collectively, AMTD) have launched a S$6mn FinTech Solidarity Grant to support Singapore-based FinTech firms to maintain their operations, and enable them to continue to innovate and grow.

This complements the S$125mn support package announced by MAS on 8 April 2020 to sustain and strengthen capabilities in the financial services and FinTech sectors. Applications for the Grant will open on 18 May 2020 and will be available until 31 December 2021.

The Grant comprises two components:

    • S$1.5mn Business Sustenance Grant (BSG). A one-time grant for up to S$20,000 to cover day-to-day working capital expenditures, such as salaries and rental costs.
    • S$4.5mn Business Growth Grant (BGG). Firms can receive up to S$40,000 for their first Proof of Concept (POC) with financial institutions on the API Exchange (APIX) platform, and S$10,000 for each subsequent POC, subject to a total cap of $80,000 per firm for the entire duration of the grant.
    • In addition, the BGG will provide funding for the salaries of undergraduate interns, capped at S$1,000/month per intern. This grant will support around 120 interns in the FinTech sector, assuming an average internship duration of three to five months.

FinTech firms can apply for both BSG and BGG if they fulfil the eligibility criteria for both grants. SFA will administer and review the grant applications.

Chia Hock Lai, President, SFA said: “The BSG helps FinTech firms to plug their short term financing gaps while BGG enables them to grow and sell through the APIX platform. These will help save jobs while making our FinTech firms competitive for the post COVID-19 economic recovery world.”

Sopnendu Mohanty, Chief FinTech Officer of MAS, added: “There is a surge in demand in the financial services industry around the region for solutions to address the need for remote digital services amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. FinTech firms have a great opportunity to step up actively during this period to provide these solutions.”

Calvin Choi, Chairman and CEO of AMTD Group, and Founder and Chairman of AMTD Foundation, also shared: “As an active financial institution focusing in the Asian region, we see the immediate need for the private sector to foster closer partnership with FinTech firms to formulate tailor made solutions to cater for the increasing demand for digital services and greater opportunities to scale up.”

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Safe and responsible celebration guidelines by MUIS for Hari Raya Aidilfitri in Singapore

With Muslims in Singapore celebrating Hari Raya Aidilfitri on Sunday, 24 May 2020, Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) has shared an advisory given the Hari Raya period is within the duration of the Circuit Breaker.

MUIS shared: “The safe distancing measures implemented during this period can only bring about the intended results when everybody works together to adhere to them. As such, Muslims should abide by the national restrictions on gatherings in public and private spaces, and therefore refrain from traditional Hari Raya visits and gatherings across households.”

As such, the following information was provided:

  • Persons going out to purchase festive items should do so individually and keep their trips as short as possible.
  • Visits to loved ones in different households, especially elderly family members, should be deferred until restrictions on visits are lifted, except where important care-giving is required.
  • The risk to elderly family members will be raised if they receive more frequent visits of long duration and high intensity of close physical interaction. “It is all the more important to take precautions now and adjust to the new norms, so that we can visit our loved ones later when it is safe to do so, in more Hari Rayas to come.”

MUIS has planned several initiatives to help Muslims fulfil their religious duties while adhering to safe distancing measures:

  • Eve of Hari Raya: Since Muslims will congregate at the mosque after the breaking of fast, for communal prayer calls (known as takbir), the community will recite the takbir in their own homes together with family members, led by Mufti and various asatizah, via YouTube Live on SalamSG TV, Facebook (FB) Live on Muis FB and the FB pages of mosques. This will be done for the first time in Singapore.
  • Following the “live” online takbir, Mufti will address the community on SalamSG TV, joined by former Mufti Dr Fatris Bakaram and President of Singapore, Mdm Halimah Yacob, as a special guest.
  • The Morning of Hari Raya: Muslims will celebrate the morning of Hari Raya in their homes with their family members of the same household. They can join in the “live” takbir via Warna 94.2 FM, or online through the Facebook pages of local mosques.
  • After the traditional Aidilfitri prayers at home, Mufti will lead a “live” Hari Raya sermon which will be broadcast over radio, and various online channels such as SalamSG TV, the first time it has been conducted in this manner in Singapore. 

Encouraging the community, MUIS shared that great resilience and responsibility has been shown, and everyone is committed to doing so throughout Syawal and the months ahead. “Today, technology has given us the opportunity to creatively use teleconferencing tools and mobile messaging applications to fulfil our religious obligations and even make “virtual” Hari Raya visits to our loved ones, so as to keep our ties and traditions alive.”

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Malaysia's Hari Raya celebration guidelines: Gatherings cannot exceed 20 people in one day

Across the border in Malaysia, the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah yesterday asked Malaysians to celebrate Hari Raya Aidilfitri by staying home and “closing their homes” to visitors, Malay Mail reported.

At his daily press briefing, he said that it was important for all members of the community to follow the guidelines issued by the MOH, in the fight against COVID-19.

Pointing at Iran as an example as to how the mass movement of people contributed to a spike in the country's COVID-19 infections, he said: "We do not want cases, for example, from the Federal Territories and also in Selangor especially in the red zones... when they go back, there is a huge possibility they can bring the virus back, and what we worry is when they cross the states, the green zones in other states would also be affected."

He noted within the state, it is important to reduce the crossings within districts and limit visits during the festive season.

“So the celebration this time around would be indoors, that is a closed house (as opposed to the concept of open house during celebrations). This is what we want to ensure,” he said, adding that all guidelines have to be observed while visiting family members.

Earlier today, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said authorities had set up 147 roadblocks nationwide to monitor interstate travel.

This comes after authorities began implementing roadblocks near major tolls on highways nationwide to enforce the ban on state border crossings during the conditional movement control order (MCO) period.

In an earlier report by Malay Mail, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob noted that visiting will only be allowed on the first day of each of the upcoming celebrations - Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Pesta Kaamatan, and Hari Gawai.

Additionally, visiting is only limited to immediate family members. 

During his daily press briefing on 13 May 2020, he said: "This follows the National Security Council (NSC) special meeting yesterday where the government decided to limit visits for the three celebrations."

However, Ismail Sabri stressed that the gathering cannot exceed 20 people in one day. The size of the house should also be taken into consideration to ensure that social distancing guidelines can still be followed.

"For example, if a flat unit is about 600 square feet, it will be too crowded for 20 people at one time without social distancing guidelines. We have to use discretion to only allow a few people at one time, but it must not exceed 20 people in a day."

He added that this will be part of the standard operating procedure (SOP) for Hari Raya, Pesta Kaamatan and Hari Gawai celebrations.

In Malaysia, Hari Raya Aidilfitri is expected to fall on May 24 and 25, while Pesta Kaamatan and Hari Gawai are celebrated on May 30 and June 1 respectively.

Ismail Sabri, who is also the defence minister, explained that the Covid-19 SOP must be observed at all times. This includes washing one’s hands regularly with soap, using hand sanitisers, encouraging the use of face masks and practising social distancing.

“Although the government has allowed visits during these festive occasions, it is the people who need to decide what is in their best interests,” he said, adding that holding an open house is prohibited under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (Act 342).

He said despite the easing of the conditional movement control order (CMCO) and the government giving permission for Hari Raya celebrations, the public must also avoid large gatherings.

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Photo / iStock

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