COVID-19: Social gatherings of up to 8 people may be allowed in Phase 3, says Gan Kim Yong

COVID-19: Social gatherings of up to 8 people may be allowed in Phase 3, says Gan Kim Yong

People eat at a busy steamboat restaurant in Singapore as the city state reopens the economy amid t
People eat at a busy steamboat restaurant in Singapore as the city state reopens the economy amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, June 19, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su

SINGAPORE: In Phase 3 of Singapore’s COVID-19 reopening, social gatherings of up to eight people may be allowed outside the home, an increase from five currently, Minister of Health Gan Kim Yong said on Tuesday (Oct 20).    

Similarly, households may receive up to eight visitors. 

“This would allow families with more than five persons to be able to get together and enjoy some face-to-face time that no amount of virtual interaction can replace,” Mr Gan said at a press conference by the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force.

Authorities had thought about increasing the maximum group size to 10, but felt it would be difficult to implement safe distancing measures in public places such as restaurants if 10 people turned up, said Mr Gan, who co-chairs the task force.

This would have raised the risk of transmissions, whereas a group size of eight is “probably more manageable,” he added.

READ: Nightlife industry a 'higher risk' setting, activities unlikely to resume even at start of Phase 3: Lawrence Wong

The capacity at events such as religious services and wedding receptions could be increased to allow up to 50 people each at multiple zones, depending on the size of the venue. Currently, these events are limited to hosting up to 100 people, split into two zones of 50.

Singapore may enter Phase 3 before the end of the year, said Minister for Education Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the task force.

Border control measures may also be eased alongside more travel arrangements with other countries, he added. 

“When can all of these measures take place? That is the big question and the answer is that it really depends on all of us, because if we work together, cooperate and comply with the requirements and the measures, then we can keep community transmission rates low,” he said at the press conference. 

“On the other hand, if we let our guard down and new clusters emerge, then this timeline will have to be pushed back, and we do not know when we can resume,” he cautioned.

READ: COVID-19: Singapore to pilot pre-event rapid testing from mid-October so more events can safely resume

In a media release, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said residents will have to be prepared to remain in Phase 3 for a "prolonged period" of possibly more than a year. 

"It will entail new ways of working and living, until the world has the virus under tight control," said MOH. 

"Phase 3 will also not be static. If we can put in place more enablers, there is scope for further reopening and scaling up of activities even within Phase 3."

Such enablers include small group sizes, continued safe distancing and mask-wearing, MOH added.

READ: Singapore residents with COVID-19 symptoms on return can access government subsidies, insurance coverage for medical bills

Changes to the limit on either the size of social gatherings or event capacity are not likely to happen at the same time, Mr Gan emphasised. 

“Some of these measures may be implemented progressively. We may adjust the group size first or we may adjust the larger-scale activities,” Mr Gan said, urging people not to expect "a big bang” when Phase 3 begins. 

“It depends on the situation and depends also on the various pilots that we are carrying out at the moment.” 

“Actually, Phase 3 … is a milestone that we are saying that we have now put in place reasonable (safety measures) to protect ourselves and we should continue to maintain these safeguards,” he added.

Mr Gan stressed that while residents are looking forward to Phase 3, it will not be a return to normal.  

“We will maintain the key measures, but we will see where we can make adjustments to allow further resumption of activities,” said Mr Gan.

“But the silver lining is that over these few months, we have incorporated many of these good habits in our daily routine and have adapted our social norms and behaviour. The key now is not to let our guard down and let our painstaking efforts of the past last few months go to waste."

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Source: CNA/rp(gs)

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