SINGAPORE: Given “very worrying trends” in the spread of COVID-19, it was important that Singapore made a “pre-emptive” move, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong at a press conference on Friday (Apr 3).
“Our original thought was that we could perhaps take some time to see if the measures implemented since last Friday (Mar 27) were having an effect in slowing down the spread of the virus,” said Mr Wong, following Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's address on the COVID-19 situation.
“But we looked at the situation on a daily basis and we decided that ... we couldn't afford to wait any further because there are very worrying trends.”
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Noting that the number of unlinked local cases now make up nearly half of the total local cases announced each day, Mr Wong said that this suggests that undetected or hidden cases within the community are "very likely".
“At today's level of infection, our hospital capacity is still able to cope with the cases that are coming in. But we do not want to wait for a situation where the cases rise and sharply. And then we get overwhelmed.
“So we decided not to wait, but to make a decisive, pre-emptive move now, and put in place this major circuit breaker to try and break the chain of transmission.”
Mr Wong said that over the past few weeks, Singaporeans have been responsible in complying with the incremental new measures introduced.
“But there will always be a group that tries to push the rules to its limits,” he added.
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While the latest set of measures will continue for at least a month, Mr Wong pointed out that this could continue beyond that period should the situation not improve and there is “poor compliance” and “poor implementation”.
“If we are all disciplined about the guidelines, uphold them not just based on the guidelines but uphold the spirit of what we are trying to do, then, there is a chance by the end of the month, we can roll back some of these measures," he explained.
"As I've said before, we are rolling back not resetting back to zero, by rolling back still there's some stringent precautions in place, but perhaps not as tight as what we are introducing today,” he said.
“But if the situation does not improve, if there is poor compliance, poor implementation, then we do have to be prepared for this set of measures to continue even beyond a month.”
Responding to questions about the effectiveness of contact tracing and containment, Mr Wong stressed that Singapore is “still going all out” in contact tracing and quarantining close contacts.
“We have not given up on containment,” he said, noting that it is now necessary “to do more” with safe distancing.
“And that’s why we’re putting in place this new stringent set of circuit breakers in place. Both the contact tracing, the safe distancing work in parallel. We have then the best chance of trying to control the spread of the virus.”
Mr Wong noted that many other countries implemented similar safe distancing measures “only after giving up and abandoning containment”.
“If you look at what other countries have done, we are doing this relatively early in our infection cycle, we have not reached a point where we’re seeing many uncontrollable outbreaks. We are still in a phase where we are containing the virus," he explained.
Mr Lee had said in his address that an enhanced set of safe distancing measures will be implemented to slow down the spread of COVID-19 in view of increasing local transmission and the number of unlinked cases.
Most workplaces islandwide will close, said Mr Lee. Essential services like food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services will remain open.
Schools and Institutes of Higher Learning will move to full home-based learning from Apr 8, he added.
Singaporeans should stay at home as much as possible, avoid socialising with others outside of their households and only go out to do essential things, Mr Lee had said.
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Gatherings should be confined to a household and Singaporeans should avoid visiting extended family members who do not live with them, especially if they are elderly or vulnerable, he added.
“The aim is to reduce much more significantly, movements and interactions in both public and private places,” said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong at the press conference.
“The key advice for Singaporeans is to stay home. Go out only for essential services. And if you need to go out, avoid close contact with crowds of people.”
However, Mr Gan reiterated that Singapore is not going into DORSCON Red.
"Let me say categorically that we are not in DORSCON Red and currently we are in DORSCON Orange. And all the measures that we mentioned, were measures that we can introduce during DORSCON Orange," said Mr Gan.
"We know human beings need social contact for the next four weeks. Please help us by maintaining social distance, so that we are able to slow down the transmission significantly."