SINGAPORE: Singapore will extend its COVID-19 "circuit breaker" period by four weeks until Jun 1, as well as implement tighter measures such as closing more workplaces, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Tuesday (Apr 21).
In a televised address to the nation, Mr Lee said that the aim is to "decisively" bring down the number of coronavirus cases in the community, and to make sure that if any "leakage" occurs from the foreign worker dormitories to the wider community, Singapore can detect and contain it early.
“To achieve these two objectives, we must all hunker down and press on with our tight circuit breaker measures,” said Mr Lee.
ENTRY RESTRICTIONS AT "HOTSPOTS"
Singapore will implement stricter circuit breaker measures such as closing more workplaces and imposing entry restrictions on “hotspots” such as popular wet markets, Mr Lee announced.
Under the circuit breaker rules that kicked in on Apr 7, only essential businesses are allowed to operate. But the list of such businesses will be further trimmed, so that only "the most essential services" will remain open, said Mr Lee.
"This will reduce further the number of workers keeping essential services going, and minimise the risks of transmission among the workers," he explained. "It will mean some degradation of services – for example, less frequent grass-cutting in our HDB estates.
"But I hope we all understand why this has to be done."
READ: COVID-19: Hairdressers, confectioneries, standalone beverage outlets to close as essential services list trimmed
The Prime Minister noted that large groups of people continue to gather at some popular wet markets, making it hard to practise safe distancing.
"These places will impose entry restrictions to thin out the crowds even more," Mr Lee said, urging people to go the market on weekdays rather than on weekends.
In his Mandarin speech, Mr Lee also stressed that Singaporeans should go out only for essential needs like buying food or necessities.
"If you need to go out, put on a mask, and only one person from every household should be away from home at any one time," he said.
The stricter rules will be in place until May 4.
"These tighter measures will be in place minimally for a two-week period from Apr 21, 2020 until May 4, 2020 (inclusive)," said the Ministry of Health in a media release after Mr Lee's speech.
Singapore is 15 days into its one-month circuit breaker period that was scheduled to end on May 4.
Measures aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 include elevated safe distancing measures, as well as the closure of schools and non-essential workplaces. It is also now mandatory to wear a mask when stepping out of the house.
Explaining the need to extend the circuit breaker period, Mr Lee said Singapore will not be able to completely lift the restrictions after May 4 and go back to business as usual.
“We will therefore extend the circuit breaker for four more weeks beyond May 4, in other words until Jun 1. Then, provided we have brought the community numbers down, we can make further adjustments and consider easing some measures," he said.
"This way, we can be more assured that we have made definite progress and consolidated our position.
“Many will be disappointed by the extension of the circuit breaker, especially our business and workers, who are hurting greatly,” said Mr Lee. “But I hope you understand that this short-term pain is to stamp out the virus, protect the health and safety of our loved ones, and allow us to revive our economy.”
UNLINKED CASES A CONCERN
Singapore on Tuesday reported 1,111 new cases of COVID-19, just a day after it confirmed a record daily high of 1,426 new coronavirus infections. Eleven people have died so far from complications due to COVID-19.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that the circuit breaker is starting to have an effect, as the number of community cases has fallen in recent days.
“This is the result of all of us coming together, making sacrifices and adhering to the circuit breaker rules. But, we cannot afford to be complacent. We must press on to bring down daily infections more sharply, to single digit, or even zero," he said.
However, Mr Lee also raised concerns about the number of unlinked cases.
“Unfortunately that number has not come down, and this suggests there is a larger, hidden reservoir of COVID-19 cases in the community, and this reservoir is the source of these unlinked cases, which we have not detected," he said.
READ: Older foreign workers with COVID-19 to get 'special attention', be moved to separate dorm: PM Lee
On how Singapore can exit from the circuit breaker, Mr Lee stressed that the country needs to take things one step at a time - first by opening up incrementally, in small steps, to make sure that people are safe.
“Second, we need to scale up testing for COVID-19 substantially, so that we can quickly detect any new cases that pop up,” Mr Lee said. “This we are progressively doing, not only by procuring test kits and equipment from other countries, but also by developing and manufacturing our own test kits.”
Singapore will also need to make full use of IT, so that when it discovers COVID-19 cases, it can trace more efficiently where people have been, and whom they have been in contact with, Mr Lee added.
“I know this has not been an easy time for everyone. We are making progress, but we have not yet succeeded, by a long way,” the Prime Minister said.
“The results show that the circuit breaker is working. Now we all need to do a little bit more, make best use of the next two weeks of the tightened circuit breaker, and the four weeks of the extension beyond that," he added.
“I ask for your support and cooperation. I ask for your trust and your confidence. Let us go all out to beat the virus, and break the chain of transmission. We will overcome this together.”