SINGAPORE: Social services and programmes funded by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will reopen in phases from Jun 2 with COVID-19 preventive measures in place, in line with Singapore's exit from the "circuit breaker".
These include family service centres, day activity centres for persons with disabilities and special student care centres.
Visits to homes serving the elderly under the MSF, however, will continue to be suspended to protect vulnerable seniors. From Jun 2, most of the staff at elderly homes who had stayed in hotels or on-site will be allowed to go home.
"In Phase 1, we will prioritise the reopening of critical services and those addressing higher needs," Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee said in a Facebook post on Sunday (May 31).
"Safe management measures will be in place to safeguard the health and safety of all staff and clients, in particular for services delivered in the centres, or through home visits."
READ: Singapore to exit circuit breaker on Jun 1, visiting of parents, places of worship allowed with restrictions
According to a frequently asked questions section on safe reopening on the MSF website, the measures include barring entry for individuals who may pose a risk of transmission, minimising interaction between staff and clients from different teams, and spacing out seats in interview rooms and service counters at least 1m apart.
"As an added precaution for service counters, desk shields or plastic dividers will be used to keep our clients and staff safe," the website said.
ELDERLY HOME VISITS
As for elderly homes, Mr Lee said visits will continue to be suspended to protect vulnerable seniors.
"As our seniors are particularly vulnerable, tighter precautionary measures will continue to be in place at our homes serving the elderly," he wrote.
"We will continue to restrict visitors at our homes serving seniors, for example Sheltered Homes, Welfare Homes, Adult Disability Homes, and we encourage caregivers and volunteers to continue keeping in touch with their elderly family members or friends remotely for their safety."
MSF also said on its website that from Jun 2, most elderly home staff who had been staying in hotels or on-site will be able to return home.
It was announced on May 2 that staff who interact with elderly residents will be given alternative housing arrangements to isolate them for the protection of residents.
This came after several nursing homes in Singapore were hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, raising concerns about vulnerable seniors.
"Some staff require time to make adjustments to their living arrangements to minimise the risk of cross-infections, such as those who share accommodation with other individuals serving in other elderly homes," MSF said on its website.
"These staff may continue staying onsite at the homes or in hotels for a few more weeks while they secure new living arrangements."
READ: All residents and staff at nursing homes to be tested for COVID-19, some employees to be housed on-site or at hotels
Staff working at these homes should also refrain from going out, except for essential needs, as they continue to be in regular close contact with elderly residents, MSF added.
In his Facebook post, Mr Lee thanked the staff who have "selflessly stayed" in alternative residences to protect the elderly.
"Many of these staff have spent time away from their families and loved ones during this time, and are looking forward to returning to their own homes after the circuit breaker," he wrote.
DISTRIBUTION OF ESSENTIAL AID TO CONTINUE
Moving on to other services, Mr Lee said MSF’s public services that were available during the circuit breaker, including social service offices (SSO) and Registry of Marriages, will continue with safe management measures in place.
The National Council of Social Service (NCCS) will coordinate efforts by partners like Social Service Agencies (SSA) and community groups to continue distributing essential aid such as cooked food and urgent financial aid to vulnerable individuals and families.
"Those providing aid should gradually resume activities, initially limiting activities to critical cases in need of urgent essential supplies," Mr Lee said.
"They should continue to submit their plans to NCSS for approval to minimise the number and movement of staff or volunteers in the community, to safeguard everyone’s safety and well-being as we exit the circuit breaker in phases."
READ: ‘Not enough manpower to get food to people in need’: Food charities hit as coronavirus measures ramped up
MSF said on its website that groups will need to demonstrate strict safe distancing measures in their plans.
These include no social mixing among different groups of staff or volunteers, and a reduced number of people as well as duration of physical interactions with beneficiaries.
"NCSS will also take into consideration the geographical distribution of SSAs and their beneficiaries, to ensure that the delivery of essential aid is coordinated and the vulnerable are adequately served," the ministry added.