SINGAPORE: Amid concerns over escalating COVID-19 infections in Singapore, the time has come for the country to make a "decisive move", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in an address to the nation on Friday (Apr 3).
This includes closing most workplaces islandwide and moving to full home-based learning for schools, said the Prime Minister, adding that the measures, which followed discussions with the multi-ministry task force tackling COVID-19, will last a month.
“As the situation developed over the past weeks, we have tightened our safe-distancing measures progressively,” he said. “Singaporeans have responded well, calmly and responsibly, and made adjustments in their daily lives. By working together, we have kept the outbreak under control.”
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“But looking at the trend, I am worried that unless we take further steps, things will gradually get worse or another big cluster may push things over the edge,” he said. “We have decided that instead of tightening incrementally over the next few weeks, we should make a decisive move now, to pre-empt escalating infections.
“We will therefore impose significantly stricter measures. This is like a circuit breaker.”
MOST WORKPLACES TO CLOSE
Most workplaces, with the exception of essential services and key economic sectors, will be closed, said Mr Lee.
“Food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services will remain open. They are essential services,” Mr Lee added.
“We also should not disrupt economic sectors that are strategic or form part of a global supply chain. People working in these industries can continue to go to work, with safe-distancing measures in place. But most other work premises must close.”
The move will ensure that most of Singapore’s workforce stays at home and limits their physical interaction to as few people as possible, added Mr Lee.
FULL HOME-BASED LEARNING
In addition, Singapore will also move to full home-based learning in schools and institutes of higher learning (IHLs), he said. The Ministry of Education (MOE) will work with the schools to implement this starting next Wednesday (Apr 8).
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“We started with one day of home-based learning this week. This has gone smoothly, with some teething issues being resolved,” Mr Lee explained. “All pre-school and student care centres will also be closed, but will provide limited services for children of parents who have to continue working and are unable to make alternative care arrangements.”
MOE announced last Friday that all schools would conduct one day of home-based learning a week from April. The move was part of enhanced measures to stem the spread of COVID-19, after an increase in the number of imported and local cases here.
MOVEMENTS AND GATHERINGS RESTRICTED
Restrictions on movements and gatherings of people will be tightened amid the spread of COVID-19 in Singapore, announced Mr Lee.
Singaporeans should stay at home as much as possible, avoid socialising with others outside of their households and only go out to do essential things, he said.
Gatherings should be confined to a household and Singaporeans should avoid visiting extended family members who do not live with them, especially if they are elderly or vulnerable, he added.
“The spirit of these measures is to get all of us to minimise physical contact. If we don’t go out, if we avoid contact with others, then the virus won’t be able to spread. It is as simple as that,” he said.
Mr Lee noted that not going out “is very hard to do”, and that practically, it may be difficult to practise safe distancing in crowded places like hawker centres and wet markets.
“It will help if we all adjust our habits. For example, do our marketing on weekdays instead of weekends to avoid the crowd,” he said, adding that Safe Distancing Ambassadors will be deployed to encourage people more firmly not to crowd together.
“Safe distancing is also hard for a psychological and emotional reason: It goes very much against our human instincts. It is in our nature to want to socialise, to be close to those we are talking to, to take comfort in the warmth and company of friends and family,” said Mr Lee, asking Singaporeans to “please bear with the painful adjustments” that have to be made.
“RETHINKING” ADVICE ON FACE MASKS
The Government will “no longer discourage” people from wearing masks, Mr Lee also said, now that the situation is changing.
From Sunday, the Government will distribute reusable masks to all households, announced Mr Lee.
“We now think there are some cases out there in the community going undetected, though probably still not that many.
“We also now have evidence that an infected person can show no symptoms and yet still pass on the virus to others,” he said, adding that the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States are reviewing the usage of face masks.
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Wearing a mask may help to protect others, in case you have the virus but do not know it yet, he said. It can also protect the elderly or those who are vulnerable because of pre-existing conditions.
Stressing that surgical masks should still be conserved for healthcare workers in clinics and hospitals, he noted that alternatives like reusable masks will give others in the community some added protection.
This is the third time Mr Lee has spoken to the nation on the COVID-19 situation.
On Mar 12, he sought to reassure the public that the situation in Singapore remained under control and set out various measures that might need to be implemented going forward.
Other measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 have been in effect.
These include tightening of border restrictions to not allow short-term visitors to enter or transit through the country, limiting of gatherings outside school and work to a maximum of 10 people as well as the closure of all entertainment venues such as night clubs, discos, karaoke outlets, cinemas and theatres. All religious services and congregations have also been suspended.
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Earlier on Friday, the Ministry of Health said in a news release that a fifth person died from COVID-19 in Singapore.
The patient was an 86-year-old Singaporean woman with no recent travel history to affected places, said the ministry. She died from complications due to the infection at 1.55am on Friday.
This is the third death reported in Singapore in a week.
Singapore reported 65 new cases on Friday afternoon, bringing the national total to 1,114.
Stressing that the next few weeks will be “pivotal”, Mr Lee said that the number of COVID-19 cases will likely continue to increase over the next few days.
"But if we keep our efforts up, within a few weeks we should be able to bring the numbers under control, bring the numbers down, and get into a more sustainable position."
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Mr Lee also thanked those who have been “working tirelessly for the past two months”, including nurses and doctors, contact tracers and healthcare staff.
“We thank them all for their efforts and sacrifices. Now we are all enlisted to join them on the frontline.
“It will be a long fight. But if any country can see this through, it is Singapore. We have the resources. We have the determination. We are united. By helping one another through this, we will prevail, and emerge stronger.”