SINGAPORE: Dining-in will be suspended and group sizes for social gatherings will go back down to two people as Singapore returns to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) to combat a rise in local COVID-19 cases.
The measures will be in effect from Thursday (Jul 22) until Aug 18 and will supersede the measures that were introduced on Monday, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a press release.
The Government will review the measures in two weeks and adjust them based on the situation at that time, the ministry added.
The COVID-19 multi-ministerial task force decided not to differentiate the measures for those who are fully vaccinated, but will consider doing so when vaccination rates are higher or when the situation has stabilised, said task force co-chair Gan Kim Yong in a press conference on Tuesday.
“We know that this news is extremely disappointing and frustrating to many, in particular for businesses in sectors such as F&B. These sectors have been very badly hit given the earlier restrictions, they have been working very hard to adapt to the changing regulations,” said Mr Gan, who is also Minister for Trade and Industry.
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From Thursday, group sizes for social gatherings will be reduced from five to two people.
There will also be a cap of two distinct visitors per household per day. People should continue to limit their social gatherings to not more than two per day, MOH said in its press release.
Similar to the previous period of Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) from May 16 to Jun 13, grandchildren being cared for daily by their grandparents will not count towards the cap on the number of visitors or social gatherings.
“Grandparents are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated against COVID-19, to protect both themselves and their grandchildren. To reduce the risk of transmission, grandparents should also minimise intermingling between grandchildren from different households,” said the ministry.
All F&B establishments, including hawker centres and food courts, can only offer takeaway and delivery options from Thursday.
Task force co-chair Lawrence Wong acknowledged that many businesses had been looking forward to reopening and would have made preparations to differentiate their customers based on vaccination status.
“I’m sure (they) would be very disappointed to know that they now have to close and cannot allow for customers to dine in, especially for our F&B operators," he said.
The return to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) was “a very difficult decision to make” and one that the task force deliberated over, Mr Wong said.
“But based on the assessment of the way the cases have developed, the many clusters that we are seeing, and how it's likely to have transmitted through into the community, we've decided that we have to put in place something to slow down the transmission.
“The general message to everyone under Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) is please stay home, minimise your movements and social interactions as much as you can,” said Mr Wong, who is also Finance Minister.
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Other mask-off activities, such as strenuous indoor exercise classes or individual and group indoor sports and exercise activities, will have to cease.
Services and activities that need masks to be removed – facials and saunas, singing and playing of wind or brass instruments – will also not be allowed.
The restrictions will not apply to medical and dental consultations that require patients to remove their masks. But non-medical facial treatments will not be exempt.
People who work in settings with unmasked customers, such as F&B staff, have been on the mandatory Fast and Easy Test regime since mid-July. They do not have to take the COVID-19 tests during Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) if their business operations are suspended.
For businesses that remain open, including F&B outlets catering to deliveries and takeaways, staff must continue with the 14-day testing requirements. The tests will continue to be free for them during this period.
Responding to a question about the two-week suspension on nightlife operators that pivoted to F&B, Mr Wong said the suspension allowed the authorities to study “in greater detail” the safe management measures in place.
A "risk-based approach" will be taken to these pivoted businesses, he said. Businesses that strictly comply with safe management measures may be allowed to resume operations after two weeks.
“Some of them where there are more questions and the agencies are not satisfied that they are able to comply strictly with the measures, we may take a bit more time,” he said, adding that government agencies may have discovered some breaches in their inspections.
“If there are operators with existing breaches, we may even then revoke the licence and not allow them to continue operating.”
NO CARPOOLING SERVICES
The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said in a separate statement on Tuesday that the updated restrictions on group sizes will apply to passengers in taxis and private hire cars. More than two passengers can only travel together if they all live in the same household.
All forms of carpooling services will also be suspended during the Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) period. These include services such as GrabHitch and RydePool.
Social carpooling trips are only permitted among friends or colleagues if the prevailing permissible group size of two people is adhered to, said LTA.
LTA also reminded all commuters to keep their masks on at all times.
“When travelling on public transport, commuters should try to stand apart from one another or travel off-peak periods where possible,” it added.
"PUBLIC HEALTH SITUATION HAS CHANGED": ONG YE KUNG
The Government previously thought that as long as the number of COVID-19 cases remained at about 40 to 60 per day, Singapore could “maintain the posture” while keeping clusters under control, said Health Minister and task force co-chair Ong Ye Kung.
“Unfortunately every day makes a difference, and the public health situation changed in a short few days,” he added.
The Health Ministry said the current wave of infections affects a “wider spectrum of the population”, including many seniors.
“At the current rate of transmission, it is likely that infection cases will rise sharply, and many people in the community will catch the virus. While close to 50 per cent of the population have completed their vaccination regimen, there remains a number of vulnerable individuals, such as our seniors, who have yet to take up vaccination,” it said.
“Unvaccinated individuals are at higher risk of being infected, and higher risk of being seriously ill if infected. Hence, in the meantime, we must act decisively to contain the current outbreak and minimise the risk of our hospital capacity being overwhelmed, while we race ahead to vaccinate those who have not completed or started their vaccination."
Singapore is "weeks away" from having two-thirds of its population fully vaccinated, said Mr Ong.
"Now is really not the time to risk it all. We need to bite this bullet, dial back on social activities, and then use this time to push through the vaccination efforts.”