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Singapore tightens social distancing measures amid recent spike in imported COVID-19 cases

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Singapore’s COVID-19 Multi-Ministry Taskforce has decided to enforce stricter measures that would limit gatherings outside of work and school to 10 persons or fewer, and ensure that physical distancing of at least one metre can be achieved in settings where interactions are non-transient.

These measures will take effect from 26 March 2020, 11.59pm, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a media release yesterday. The measures are expected to be in place till 30 April 2020, but they may be extended if the situation does not improve. They include measures for workplaces, entertainment venues, events, and more.

Workplace: Telecommuting from home must be ensured wherever possible

Existing measures for workplaces continue to apply. Employers are also urged to implement measures to reduce physical interactions amongst employees.

Tele-conferencing should be used in place of physical meetings wherever possible.

Additionally, where employees can perform their work by telecommuting from home, employers must ensure that they do so.

ALSO READ: COVID-19: How employers can do their part in implementing social distancing measures

Events: All events and mass gatherings must be deferred or cancelled

Previous requirements on events and gatherings, which limit them to fewer than 250 participants, have been tightened.

Now, all events and mass gatherings (such as conferences, exhibitions, festivals, concerts, sporting events, and trade fairs) must be deferred or cancelled, regardless of size.

Singaporeans are advised to avoid holding and participating in social events and gatherings (including private celebrations like birthdays and weddings) involving more than 10 persons at any one time.

For funerals and wakes, attendance should be limited as far as possible to family members only, and gatherings of 10 or fewer people at any one point.

Entertainment venues: Bars, karaoke outlets, and cinemas to close; additional requirements for retail malls 

All bars and entertainment venues will be closed. This includes night clubs, discos, cinemas, theatres, and karaoke outlets, where there is a high risk of transmission due to sustained close contact over a period of time.

While other public venues may remain open. For example, retail malls, museums, and attractions) where contact is more transient. However, operators are to ensure the following:

  • Reduce operating capacity within the venue at any one time, so that the venue does not have more than one person per 16 square metres of usable space. This is to significantly reduce the density of crowds in these venues, especially during peak periods.
  • Groups must not exceed 10 persons. Shows within attractions (indoor and outdoor), group tours at the museums, and open atrium sales events (except for supermarket retailers where atrium sales may be used to disperse crowds from their stores) will be suspended.
  • Disperse congregations and provide an environment that allows at least one metre physical spacing between patrons. These include queues and waiting areas. Operators are encouraged to offer services by appointment or through digital services where possible, to minimise queues. Crowds should be quickly dispersed.

Retail malls and attractions that are unable to adhere to these requirements must be closed.

Additional penalties may be imposed on those which are found to have been a place of transmission of COVID-19, if the venues are found not to have adhered to these requirements.

Organised tours in public venues will be suspended. This includes sightseeing or guided walking tours.

Existing measures for food and beverage venues continue to apply. Other activities such as live music or karaoke which are likely to cause patrons to congregate will have to cease. Food and beverage outlets must set up their spaces (arrangement of tables and seating) to ensure separation of at least one metre between tables or different groups of diners.

  • Related diners (e.g. family members, couples) can be seated together at one table, but the tables must be spaced out.
  • Groups of diners should also be limited to 10 persons or fewer.

Patrons of eating establishments with fixed seating – for example, hawker centres and coffee shops – must use alternate seats. Premise managers should mark out seats to facilitate these arrangements.

Faith-based activities and tuition and enrichment centres

All religious services and congregations will be suspended. Places of worship (e.g. temples, mosques, churches) may remain open for private worship and essential rites, subject to group sizes of 10 persons or fewer at any one time.

All centre-based tuition and enrichment classes will be suspended. This is to reduce the intermingling of students from different schools and enhance the safety of our students.

Through these measures, the taskforce hopes to significantly reduce the risks of seeding new local clusters. It urged Singaporeans to take these safe distancing measures seriously to prevent the more drastic measures seen in other countries.

On the back of the recent spike in imported COVID-19 cases, the taskforce has also recently disbarred all short-term visitors from entering or transiting through Singapore, and further curtailed the entry of work pass holders.


Additional advisories, enhanced precautions, and commencement of community isolation facility

Residents and Long-Term Pass Holders who disregard travel advisory will be charged unsubsidised rates if suspected for COVID-19

MOH has noted that there are still Singapore residents and Long Term Pass holders who are travelling abroad even after the Government issued travel advisories. They risk the health of other Singaporeans and residents when they return.

Any Singapore resident or Long Term Pass holder who leaves Singapore from 27 March 2020, in disregard of the prevailing travel advisories, will be charged at unsubsidised rates for their inpatient stay at public hospitals, if they are admitted for suspected COVID-19 and have onset of symptoms within 14 days of returning to Singapore. Singapore residents will also not be able to claim from MediShield Life or Integrated Shield Plans for these treatments at public and private hospitals.

Any work pass holder or his/her dependant who leaves Singapore from 27 March 2020 will be deprioritised for entry approval and could see significant delays before they are allowed to return to Singapore if they persist in travelling abroad and return infected.

Currently, all work pass holders and their dependants planning to enter/return to Singapore from any country are required to obtain MOM’s approval before they can commence their journey.

Enhanced precautions for UK/US returnees

The taskforce is working with hotel operators to provide dedicated facilities for UK and US returnees to serve their 14-day stay-home notice (SHN).

Transportation will be arranged to send the returnees directly from the airport to the hotels. Each will have their own room/toilet, and will be provided all their meals, so that they may avoid physical contact with other individuals. These SHN requirements will be strictly enforced so as to reduce the risk of community transmission from imported cases.

This new SHN arrangement will take effect for all UK andUS returnees from 25 March 2020, 11.59pm. Those who are  presently still serving out their SHN in their homes may also apply to stay in these dedicated facilities. They can contact the SHN Helpline at 6812-5555 for more information.

The UK and US account for the largest share of imported cases by far. We expect more Singapore residents, including a sizeable group of Singaporean students, to return from these countries over the coming weeks in response to lockdowns in these countries.

Seniors and people with underlying conditions to avoid social gatherings

The suspension of activities for seniors will be extended till 30 April 2020.

During this time, seniors and individuals with underlying chronic medical conditions (e.g. heart disease, diabetes, lung disease) are advised to:

  • Avoid social gatherings and crowded places as far as possible, and to only go out for essential purposes (e.g. work, purchase food and supplies).
  • Be vigilant in maintaining good personal hygiene, such as by washing their hands frequently and avoiding touching their face and eyes unnecessarily.
  • See a doctor immediately if they feel unwell.

Since 11 March 2020, all senior-centric activities at community clubs, residents’ committees, Senior Activity Centres, Active Ageing Hubs, CREST Centres, Health Promotion Board (HPB) and ActiveSG sport centres had been suspended for two weeks.

Commencement of Community Isolation Facility

As steps are taken to minimise further spread of the disease, MOH is making the necessary preparations to cope with a possible surge. This includes ensuring that our healthcare facilities are able to cope with a larger number of cases.

A Community Isolation Facility has been set up at D’Resort NTUC (1 Pasir Ris Close) with maximum capacity of about 500 persons, which is operational from 24 March 2020. Patients who are clinically well enough to be discharged from medical care but still test positive for COVID-19 to the facility will be transferred to this facility for isolation and care. These patients have thus far been isolated in hospitals. However, this has not been an efficient use of our hospital resources as they do not generally require significant medical care.

The Community Isolation Facility is modelled after the existing Government Quarantine Facilities, and will be managed with a higher baseline level of infection control by staff. Patients who are clinically fit for discharge but are still COVID-19 positive will be isolated and safely managed in this facility until after they test negative for COVID-19. The cost of isolation in the Community Isolation Facility will be borne by the Government.

Those who breach regulations to face legal action under the Infectious Disease Act

The Ministry of Health (MOH) will be promulgating Regulations under the Infectious Diseases Act to give legal force to the safe distancing measures, as well as to provide enhanced enforcement for breaches of the SHN.

The penalty for an offence under the Regulations, including any SHN breach, would be a fine of less than $10,000 or imprisonment of fewer than six months or both.

In addition, existing levers under the Infectious Diseases Act, including the temporary suspension of operations, may be used against persons and operators found to be non-compliant with the Regulations.

Government agencies will also step up enforcement efforts against persons on SHN, using a combination of mobile applications, phone surveillance and house visits. The number of officers conducting such checks will be increased substantially to tighten enforcement efforts. Detailed checks will also be carried out to verify the declared addresses of returning residents on the SHN forms. To provide expeditious support to persons on SHN, a centralised call centre will be set up from 26 March 2020 to handle all SHN-related queries.

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