SINGAPORE: Singapore has not ruled out the possibility of another “circuit breaker” in light of the recent increase in COVID-19 cases in the community, but it hopes to avoid that situation with newly announced restrictions, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
The Ministry of Health on Tuesday (May 4) announced further tightening of COVID-19 measures, including limiting social gatherings and the number of distinct visitors to a home to five people from May 8 to May 30. This is a reduction from the eight people allowed currently.
Among other changes, the proportion of employees allowed to return to the workplace will also be reduced during the same period, while capacity will be reduced at attractions, libraries, tours and MICE events.
READ: Cap of 5 people for social gatherings, household visits to return as Singapore tightens COVID-19 measures
“I think it's important for us to clarify that we have not ruled out the possibility of a circuit breaker. Certainly we hope that we won't get there and we must do what we can with this set of measures we've just announced,” Mr Gan said at the press conference of the multi-ministry task force, which he co-chairs.
"With the cooperation and support of all Singaporeans, I think we probably will be able to avoid having to get to a circuit breaker situation but we cannot rule that out," he added.
"And that is why we will continue to remain vigilant, monitor the situation and adjust our measures as we go along."
READ: Singapore will have to tighten COVID-19 measures 'promptly' if necessary to curb spread, avoid second circuit breaker: PM Lee
Education Minister Lawrence Wong likened the new set of restrictions as a move “back to Phase 2”.
He added that the situation currently “is not quite the same” as last year when the circuit breaker was implemented. The circuit breaker period was in place from Apr 7 to Jun 1 last year, with measures that include home-based schooling and most workplaces being shut.
“If we look at the indicators in terms of unlinked cases and more carefully in terms of what we are picking out from the sentinel surveillance, I wouldn't say that the situation is where we were ... before we entered the circuit breaker last year," said Mr Wong, in response to a question about why authorities are taking a “phased approach” with the tightening of measures.
"We'll liken it more to the early phase when we entered into the COVID-19 outbreak and we were seeing sprinkling of community cases ... Maybe more like the situation (in) February, March, rather than right before the circuit breaker, so there is a qualitative difference in the situation assessment by our public health experts," he added.
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Singapore also has “far better” capabilities when it comes to testing and contact tracing now. These allow the authorities to move faster in identifying potential close contacts and having them tested.
"We think we are able to snuff out the current outbreak of clusters and bring things under control,” said the minister who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force with Mr Gan.
“But as an additional pre-emptive step, we are taking this move that we have just described - bringing the whole suite of measures back to Phase 2 and taking a much tighter posture overall," said Mr Wong.
“And we believe that if we do that and if everyone cooperates from now to the ... end of May, we have a good chance of bringing cases down and getting things back on control.”
GAN KIM YONG TO STAY ON IN COVID-19 TASK FORCE
Mr Gan, who will move to the Ministry of Trade and Industry on May 15 as part of the recent Cabinet reshuffle, also said that he will continue to be involved in the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force.
Current Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung is set to take over as Minister for Health.
Mr Gan, who has been the Health Minister for almost a decade and played a key role in Singapore’s fight against the pandemic thus far, said: “I have been discussing with my co-chair Minister Lawrence Wong, as well as the incoming Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung, and we discussed how we can ensure continuity."
He added: “The three of us will continue to be involved in the (multi-ministry task force) and we will continue to share and support one another as we go ahead.
"Even if I move to the Ministry of Trade and Industry, I will continue to work with the other two co-chairs in order to make sure that there is continuity.”