Singapore's PM Lee Hsien Loong

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The nation has unveiled a slew of new measures, both domestic and cross-border, including quarantine-free travel, allowing 75% of WFH employees to return to the office, doubling the permissible group size from five to 10 persons, and more. Report by the HRO team.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, and the Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) have announced Singapore's latest COVID-19 endemic measures, in a speech that has set the context, taking stock of Singapore's journey so far, and comprehensively explained the nation's plans moving forward.

In his speech today (24 March 2022), PM Lee acknowledged that Singapore has reached a major milestone in its COVID-19 journey – where a large number of the population has been vaccinated and received the booster shot, the Omicron wave has crested and is now subsiding, and crucially, the healthcare system remains resilient. "The load is still heavy but the pressure is now easing."

As such, Singapore is taking five decisive steps forward towards living with COVID-19. The following measures have been announced, effective 29 March 2022: 

  1. Up to 75% of employees who can work from home will be allowed to return to the workplace
  2. Group sizes for social gatherings will be doubled from five to 10 persons.
  3. The capacity for large events of more than 1,000 people will be increased to 75%.
  4. Wearing masks outdoors will now be optional. However, masks will still be mandatory indoors. 
  5. Maintain the safe distancing requirement of 1m when masks are off.

In addition to the domestic safe management measures (SMMs) listed above, he also announced plans to ease up cross-border travel substantially, effective 29 March 2022. In a nutshell, testing will be drastically streamlined, as well as quarantine-free travel will be allowed for all fully-vaccinated travellers (without VTLs and the need for a VTP), as parts of efforts to help Singapore reclaim its position as a business & aviation hub. 

Apart from what was shared by PM Lee, more details are listed below on specific measures unveiled by the MTF in the subsequent press conference. 

Social gatherings and entertainment activities

With the permissible limit for social gatherings going up to 10 people, the following measures will come into place effective 29 March 2022:

  • For 10 pax to dine together, all of them need to be fully vaccinated.
  • Operational measures for 10 pax diners – There will be entrance checks for groups of 10 pax diners. For those without entrance checks, only groups of five fully-vaccinated diners are allowed. All of these arrangements are subject to random spot checks.
  • Alcohol consumption – Sale and consumption of alcohol is allowed in F&B establishments after 10.30pm. 
  • Establishments can resume live performances and screening of live broadcasts (eg, sports events).
  • Busking is allowed to resume.
  • Large scale social gatherings – Work/social events like galas are allowed to resume (and are no longer restricted to wedding or solemnisations).
  • Congregational singing and cheering at events – Such vocalisation activities are allowed as long as masks are on.
  • Nightlife sector – No changes to nightlife sector players such as at bars, pubs, karaoke establishments, and nightclubs for now. However, the Taskforce will review and is expected to update on these in the coming weeks.

Border reopening and streamlined measures

Transport Minister S. Iswaran further elaborated on the opening of Singapore’s borders, which is currently underway in two phases.

The first was in September 2021, with the launch of Vaccinated Travel Lanes (VTLs). To date, Singapore has launched 32 VTLs by air, and VTLs by sea with Batam and Bintan. Minister Iswaran noted in his speech that passenger traffic at Changi Airport has continued to grow steadily, reaching 18.2% of pre-COVID levels last week – the highest since borders closed in March 2020.

The second phase will entail a shift from the VTLs to a vaccinated travel framework, which entails streamlined and simplified measures, almost akin to the travelling pre-COVID, as well as quarantine-free travel, which sees the end of the VTLs, the Minister shared.

The following are the measures being rolled out as part of Singapore's border reopening:

  1. As such, the country-region classification for incoming travellers into Singapore has been condensed to just two categories: General Travel, and Restricted.
    1. From 1 April 2022, all fully-vaccinated travellers from any country or region (General category) will be allowed to enter Singapore without serving quarantine, provided that they have not been in countries/regions on the Restricted list within the past seven days. There are currently no countries/regions in the Restricted list (as of 24 March 2022).
  2. Further, there is no longer a need for short-term travellers to apply for entry approval. Similarly, fully-vaccinated travellers will not need to apply for a Vaccinated Travel Pass to enter Singapore. There will also no longer be any designated VTL flights or ferries - fully-vaccinated travellers are free to take any flight into Singapore, without quarantine upon arrival.
  3. Testing requirements will also be eased, wherein fully-vaccinated travellers will not need to take an on-arrival test. However, as of now, air and sea travellers are still required to submit a negative pre-departure test taken within 48 hours of departure into Singapore. The government will review this requirement in two to four weeks, by mid-April.
  4. The SG Arrival Card (SGAC), which all travellers are required to complete, will also be simplified. 

In this shift to a Vaccinated Travel Framework, the Ministry of Transport is working with its aviation and maritime partners on operational adjustments at Singapore’s airport and ferry terminals to prepare for the change.

With the discontinuation of designated VTL flights and quotas, airlines can simply submit their plans to CAAS and operate flights as they used to pre-COVID. Air crew can also resume normal activities in Singapore or overseas, and will be subject to similar testing requirements as vaccinated travellers.

Additionally, airport workers will only need to put on surgical masks, except for those in higher-risk roles who will be required to wear a face shield and gloves. They will also no longer be subject to Rostered Routine Testing (RRT).

There is also no longer segregation of the airport into zones. Henceforth, all travellers arriving from countries/regions in the General Travel List can move about freely in the transit area.

Changi Airport Group is also progressively reopening the retail and F&B outlets in the transit areas.

With these moves, the government aims to “welcome airlines back to serve Singapore and the region”, raise passenger volumes to at least 50% of pre-COVID levels this year, and restore the traveller experience the airport is renowned for. 

Before ending, Minister Iswaran highlighted two important aspects in this transition.

  • First, the airport community is gearing up for higher traveller volumes by ramping up recruitment and recalling their experienced workers. Minister Iswaran noted that this will “take some time, given the scale and challenges”.
  • Second, Singapore must be prepared to quickly re-establish the public health protocols if the COVID-19 situation changes suddenly, as it has in the past. As such, Minister Iswaran urged the public to “preserve the muscle memory in our system”, by “ensuring that we preserve the capacity to process passengers from Restricted List countries/regions at dedicated areas in the airport, and to quickly stand up on-arrival testing and other public health measures at the airport and ferry terminals.”

The Ministry of Education’s (MOE) approach

On this front, Minister of Education Chan Chun Sing shared that the ministry’s approach would address three aspects:

  • The social-emotional wellbeing of students,
  • Catering to language learning needs, and
  • Allowing opportunities for students to interact with their peers, including those from overseas.

Going forward, the risk of COVID-19 “must be balanced against the risks to the long-term development of our children,” Minister Chan affirmed.

Thus, MOE will adjust its posture in the following three ways:

First, it will take a phased approach to resuming normal learning, by offering selected teachers and students the flexibility to remove their masks for language and literacy lessons. This decision comes following feedback by educators that having masks on currently poses challenges in teaching students with higher development needs.

Second, MOE will enable and encourage schools and students to re-establish connections and expand their interactions with overseas peers, to help them “develop a deep understanding of the world they operate in.” This is also “fundamental to Singapore’s role as a global hub,” Minister Chan added.

Last, MOE will allow the resumption of all 29 sports’ participation in the National School Games, as well as the resumption of the Singapore Youth Festival later this year.

Booster shots recommended for susceptible groups

With regard to vaccination and booster doses, the Ministry of Health (MOH) Director of Medical Services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak shared that the fourth vaccine dose (also known as the second booster shot) is being recommended for those who are considered “highly susceptible” to the virus. This includes the following groups:

  • Those who are aged 80 and above,
  • Immunocompromised individuals who have a serious chronic disease, and
  • Those who are also living in aged care facilities.

This recommended fourth dose, or second booster shot, should come five months after their first booster dose. However, this development will not affect one's vaccination status for vaccination-differentiated safe management measures. That said, Professor Mak strongly encouraged those eligible to go for this second booster to protect themselves.

"Healthy persons in younger age groups have a lower risk of severe disease, and better immune responses to vaccination. There is currently no recommendation for them to receive an additional dose of vaccine after the first booster dose," he added.

Further to that, Professor Mak also said that from 25 March 2022 onwards, all children, aged 12 months and older, no longer need to be hospitalised by default when they contract COVID-19. They can follow Protocols 1-2-3, which were previously only eligible for those children above the age of five, and do a home recovery treatment. 

Migrant workers living in dormitories

The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will align the SMMs for migrant workers (MWs) living in dormitories with the latest community SMMs, for example, in the areas of masking, social gathering, and safe distancing. In addition, from 1 April 2022, vaccinated MWs will no longer need to apply for Exit Passes to visit recreation centres (RCs). Only unvaccinated MWs must continue to apply for Exit Passes and also fulfil their pre-visit ART before visiting the RCs.

As for community visits, the quota of slots for vaccinated MWs had previously already been raised to 15,000 and 30,000 for weekdays as well as weekends & public holidays respectively. With the new developments, while the quota will remain the same, but there will no longer be a need to do pre-visit ART. To safeguard unvaccinated MWs against infection, they would still not be allowed to visit the community.

Rostered routine testing (RRT) to come to an end 

RRT had already previously been streamlined to apply only to settings catering to vulnerable groups and selected essential services sectors. As of the latest update, this testing strategy will be optimised further.

The high vaccination and booster coverage among the sectors still on RRT, and their strict compliance to their specific SMMs will now be considered sufficient to protect the individuals within these sectors. Therefore, from 29 March 2022, RRT will be stopped for all sectors.

With this, the Government subsidies provided for companies on RRT will also end on 29 March 2022. Employers and businesses who wish to impose regular testing at the workplace at their cost may continue to do so. Companies should continue to allow their employees to rest at home from their COVID infection if they test positive, without the need for a medical certificate or recovery memo.

Generic updates

  • There are currently no plans to remove TraceTogether or the entire contract tracing framework.
  • Therapeutics – COVID-19 oral pills are being rolled out for use in selected polyclinics. At this time, it has not been shown to significantly reduce COVID-19 transmission.
  • Reinfection rates – No specific information is available at this time. However, Prof Mak assured reinfection rates are low, given the vaccination coverage Singapore has, in addition to reinfection being less intense for those who are vaccinated.
  • Definition of fully-vaccinated – Per Singapore's definition for incoming travellers, fully-vaccinated individuals include only those who have completed their primary vaccination regime (two doses of mRNA vaccine), as well as one booster. For those fully-vaccinated (two doses) without a booster dosage, they can only stay in Singapore for 30 days, subject to vaccination-differentiated safe management measures (VDS), post which they must take a booster shot at their own cost while in Singapore if they wish to stay longer, or a serology test.
  • Implications of new measures for Singapore unvaccinated – There will be no easing of vaccination-differentiated measures.

Image / PM Lee's Facebook

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