SINGAPORE: Customer-facing staff will get priority testing for COVID-19 as some sectors prepare to resume with more stringent measures, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said on Sunday (May 3).
The biopharma, petrochemical and manufacturing sectors will open up first as they keep Singapore connected to global supply chains, he told reporters in a video call.
Government agencies will work closely with companies in these sectors to implement measures such as using technology to track and trace employees, conducting testing for higher-risk groups and ensuring separation is maintained even after work hours.
Companies that are ready can resume operations from May 12.
But Mr Chan said it is difficult to give a timeline for this progressive opening up, pointing out that Singapore needs to sustain a low number of community cases before the economy can operate at near full capacity.
On-site work activities are now at about 17 per cent, he added.
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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Apr 30 that Singapore's economy will open up "step by step" as the number of COVID-19 cases falls. Industries that keep the domestic economy going will be the first to resume, he added.
The Ministry of Health said on Saturday that companies must continue to allow staff to work from home wherever possible, enforce safe distancing among employees at the workplace, stagger working hours and break times and ensure no cross-deployment of staff across teams or worksites.
Mr Chan said these "safe working environment measures" are useful beyond the pandemic as they protect business continuity.
"We have to put in place now at factories and companies safe distancing measures, safe rest areas, cohorting for business continuity, use of technology solutions to track and trace, and also to do the necessary testing for higher risk groups," he said.
High-risk groups include those working in healthcare and nursing homes as they deal with vulnerable groups, he said.
The Government has said all residents and staff at nursing homes and other facilities serving the elderly will be tested for COVID-19.
"The other group of people we will be more concerned about will be frontline staff with a high degree of interaction with the public," Mr Chan said.
Mr Chan said companies must advise workers to maintain separation beyond work "so that employees in different cohorts, shifts and work sites do not mix and interact outside work".
"This will be critical for us because if there should be a flare-up, a case in any one particular group, we can quickly isolate that group and allow the rest of the work to continue," he said.
Foreign workers living in dormitories should also maintain separation after working hours, Mr Chan said, adding that multinational corporations with foreign workers in essential services have implemented this over the last few months.
These workers could be separated within the same dormitory or at different dormitories, he said.
"(This is) so that if anything happens to one particular group of workers from that company, the rest of the workers will not be affected," Mr Chan said.
The minister said the Government is looking at giving more help to businesses, such as those in the entertainment sector, that will take longer to reopen due to the stricter measures.
Other businesses, like those operating in co-working spaces, will need to rethink their business model and innovate to comply with safe distancing measures, he said.
"Those in the social entertainment sector will require a new business model of how they are able to operate in a post-COVID-19 environment," he added.
"At this point in time we will need to encourage them to rethink their business model, and we will work with them to see how some of these things can resume in a safe manner."