SINGAPORE: As Singapore battles the COVID-19 outbreak, all social gatherings of any size in both private and public spaces have been banned under a new Bill passed in Parliament on Tuesday (Apr 7).
This would include private parties or gatherings with families or friends not living together, at home or in public spaces such as HDB void decks, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
Under the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill, the Government has included provisions to provide the legal basis in order to enforce the enhanced safe distancing measures, said Mr Gan. "These are temporary measures specific to the COVID-19 situation we are facing currently," he added.
Under the Bill, the Health Minister can prohibit events and gatherings or impose conditions on how they are conducted and on the participation in such activities.
"This enables us to better regulate events and gatherings, including those that take place on private properties," said Mr Gan in Parliament. "For example, we had earlier required certain events and mass gatherings to be deferred or cancelled."
In response to queries, the Health Ministry issued the following clarification: "We will disallow social gatherings, such as private parties and social get-togethers with friends and relatives.
"Individuals can still visit family members for assistance with their daily needs, such as caring for elderly parents or for informal childcare arrangements."
The Bill will be valid for six months, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam had said earlier, with the Minister for Law given power to extend it for up to a year. Mr Gan highlighted that the circuit breaker measures designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 will be imposed until May 4.
"We will review the situation then, to decide whether there is a need to extend the 'circuit breaker' period, and if so, whether some of the measures need to be adjusted," he said.
In addition, the Bill will also allow the minister to restrict individuals’ movements and interactions at their place of residence or any specified place, as well as their use of common areas such as void decks, said Mr Gan.
"While the majority of Singaporeans are responsible and will try to comply with the safe distancing measures, there will inevitably be a few individuals who do not treat the situation seriously and blatantly disregard the rules," he added. "We will not hesitate to take action against such persons and send a strong signal to prevent such behaviour from negating our collective efforts during this crucial circuit breaker to slow down the infection."
Under the Bill, the Minister for Health also has the power to close premises to minimise interactions and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
The Bill also provides the option to bring the Requisition of Resources Act (RORA) into effect, for the purposes of containing COVID-19 and caring for the patients and those at risk, said Mr Gan.
He added: “The allows for the requisition of land, property or services needed to ramp up our healthcare capacity and public health capabilities.
“For instance, if the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Singapore, it may become necessary to requisition buildings suitable for conversion into accommodations and care facilities in order to isolate individuals who are suspected or confirmed to be infected, to reduce the risk of further spread, while caring for them.”
The Bill will empower the minister or any public officer authorised by the minister to appoint enforcement officers to take action against individuals, business owners or entities which flout the orders and requirements.
These enforcement officers include police officers, public officers and health officers appointed under the Infectious Diseases Act.
"For our enhanced safe distancing measures to work, we need members of the public to take the measures seriously," said Mr Gan. "Therefore, failure to adhere to the measures without a reasonable justification will constitute an offence. We need to send a strong signal to those who are egregious in flouting the measures, as they are putting not only themselves but also others at risk."
However, he added that enforcement officers will look at the facts of the cases "carefully", including whether there are reasonable explanations for any non-compliance, before taking action.
The penalties are "aligned" with those under the Infectious Diseases Act, said Mr Gan.
For first time offenders, the penalty is a fine of up to S$10,000 or imprisonment of up to six months, or both. For second or subsequent offences, the penalty is a fine of up to S$20,000, or imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both.
There are provisions in the Bill for safeguards, stressed Mr Gan.
"First, let me emphasise that the minister may make such orders only when the minister is satisfied that the incidence and transmission of COVID-19 constitute a serious threat to public health, and that the provisions of a control order are necessary or expedient to prevent or contain the spread," he said.
In addition, a control order and any amendment must be presented to Parliament as soon as possible after its publication in the Government Gazette, and Parliament may pass a resolution annulling the control order or any part or amendment of it.
The minister must also publish the control order such that it is brought to the notice of those affected by it, in addition to publishing it in the Gazette, Mr Gan added.