Singapore’s Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Wednesday said the present coronavirus restrictions in the country could be in place for another year or even longer depending on whether the world has the virrus under control or effective treatment is widely available.
Singapore, which has lost 28 lives to COVID-19 with 58,216 confirmed cases, is planning to move into Phase III of reopening post the virus outbreak. Responding to a question in the Parliament, Gan confirmed Phase III reopening was being considered but maintained it was conditional on the situation remaining under control in the country.
The number of new coronavirus cases has dropped significantly in Singapore in the last two months. Phase III, by no means, will be a return to the pre-COVID days, The Straits Times quoted the minister as saying in the House,
Gan said Phase III of the reopening would last until the rest of the world has the virus under control or till effective treatments or vaccines are widely available, which could be over a year, the daily reported. This means that measures must be put in place to enable everyone to stay safe while continuing to live, work and mark major life events.
Gan said group size limits depend on factors such as how frequently an activity takes place, what potential risks it has, and whether additional safety measures can be implemented to mitigate such risks.
Pointing to the large clusters of COVID-19 cases that had formed during events from where the virus spread from its early days here, Gan said, “The probability of transmission tends to be high in social settings… (as) it is natural to lower our guard when we are among family and friends.” He noted that having meals in a group raises the risk of transmission as masks are removed while eating and drinking.
“Many of us go out for meals practically every day, and with different groups, the risk is multiplied many times. Hence, we have taken a cautious approach in expanding group sizes,” he said.
The authorities are currently considering increasing group size limits from five to eight in Phase III. Before the COVID-19 outbreak, banquet tables at functions had 10 people.
On testing, the minister said ‘pre-event’ testing was being piloted to allow high-risk gatherings, such as weddings, to be scaled up safely. However, he explained that the antigen rapid test kits used for pre-event testing are not as accurate as the polymerase chain reaction tests, and so the officials cannot completely eliminate the chance that a COVID-19 case will be at an event. Safe management measures will thus still have to be observed, the minister said.
On contact tracing, Gan said the authorities are progressively rolling out the ‘TraceTogether-only SafeEntry’ programme, which monitors the movement of people in public settings using mobile application or tokens. He added that safe distancing ambassadors and enforcement officers will continue to be deployed.
“Our objective in Phase III is to reach a steady state of permitted economic and social activities until an effective vaccine or treatment is widely available.
“If we can put in place more enablers and risk-mitigating measures that allow for further reopening and scaling up of activities, we will. On the other hand, if and when conditions worsen, we will take targeted measures too,” Gan said.
“Should there be a spike in cases, we need to respond swiftly and decisively. We cannot rule out the need to reimpose measures or introduce new measures in order to keep the virus under control,” he cautioned.
Meanwhile, Singapore reported seven new cases on Wednesday, two of which the Ministry of Health said came from dormitories for foreign workers here. The total cases is 58,216. The other five cases were imported and have been placed under stay home notice.
The seven imported cases, reported on Tuesday, came from India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, the United Arab Emirates and Germany. They have been placed under stay home notice.
Thirty-eight confirmed cases are still in hospitals while 26 are recuperating in isolated community facilities for mild symptoms. Thirteen cases were discharged on Tuesday from hospitals and community facilities on recovery from coronavirus. In all, 57,937 have fully recovered, said MOH.
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