SINGAPORE: Singapore has to "move cautiously" in exiting its COVID-19 "circuit breaker" period as there are still "hidden cases" of infection circulating among the general population, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on Monday (May 25).
He cited the example of eight pre-school staff members who tested positive for the virus after a mass testing exercise. As part of a proactive testing programme that began on May 15, all teaching and non-teaching staff at pre-schools will be swabbed before centres reopen.
"The fact is that there are still hidden cases circulating amongst the general population," Mr Wong said in a Facebook post.
"There are bound to be other undetected asymptomatic cases in the community. That's why we have to move cautiously. This means that not everything can reopen at the same time, and tough decisions have to be made on which ones go first," he added.
Authorities had announced last week that Singapore restrictions would be lifted in three phases from Jun 2.
Mr Wong noted that COVID-19 cases are expected to rise when activities resume.
"All the countries that have been beaten the virus to low levels have seen a rebound in cases when they resumed activities - more when they resumed precipitously; less when they proceeded cautiously," he wrote.
READ: Transition to a 'new normal' after circuit breaker: How will measures be lifted beyond Phase 1?
Noting that some have been disappointed by the Government's cautious approach, Mr Wong explained that a phased reopening will allow authorities to have a better control of the overall situation.
"Since we have permitted physiotherapy sessions, should we now also allow spas and massage centres to re-open (as has been requested by some business owners)? Obviously the services are different - the former is an integral part of healthcare, and that’s why we accord it greater priority.
"We would have liked to say 'yes' to all the requests. But each time we ease up on something, we introduce many more face-to-face contacts and people movement within the community. That in turn means higher transmission risks and the likelihood of more infections," he said.
"We are prioritising both lives and livelihoods. I hope you appreciate and understand that we are trying our best to resume activities safely for Singaporeans, while keeping infection rates low."
Mr Wong said that authorities will continue with its pro-active testing of different segments of the population.
If all goes well, Singapore will be able to move to Phase 2 around the end of June, he added.
Singapore reported 344 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, bringing the country’s total to 31,960. Four of the new cases are Singaporeans or permanent residents.
To help households and businesses cope with the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat will on Tuesday announce a fourth support package called the Fortitude Budget.
Jobs will be a key part of the Budget, said Mr Heng, adding that there will also be more support for social sector agencies.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with additional comments from the National Development Minister on the reopening of certain types of businesses.