SINGAPORE: TraceTogether-only SafeEntry will be progressively introduced at all wet markets and hawker centres in Singapore over the coming weeks.
This means everyone entering wet markets and hawker centres will have to check in with their TraceTogether app or token using the SafeEntry Gateway, or by scanning SafeEntry QR codes with their TraceTogether app, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Tuesday (Jul 20).
Authorities said wet markets and hawker centres are frequently visited by members of the community. They are also where many seniors tend to congregate.
“The potential for transmission is high given the close proximity between individuals or mask-off activities, as evidenced by the recent clusters detected at these settings,” MOH said in a press release, adding that there is a need to facilitate quicker contact tracing to curb potential transmission at these settings.
It was announced on Jul 18 that the National Environment Agency and town councils will progressively implement access control with interim fencing and mandatory SafeEntry check-in at markets where COVID-19 cases have been detected among stallholders or stall assistants.
The latest announcement will apply to all other wet markets and hawker centres in Singapore, as part of a slew of stricter curbs that MOH described as a return to Phase 2 (Heightened Alert).
“We encourage all members of public to comply with SafeEntry check-in requirements and to carry their TraceTogether token or keep their TraceTogether app active to facilitate contact tracing, and help protect themselves and their loved ones,” MOH said.
Tuesday's announcement comes on the back of a growing number of COVID-19 cases linked to wet markets and food centres, which were "likely seeded" by fishmongers who visited Jurong Fishery Port to collect their stock for sale at markets and food centres.
The Jurong Fishery Port cluster, which was first reported last Friday, had 321 cases as of Tuesday night, making it Singapore's largest active cluster. The KTV cluster has 207 cases.
READ: Return to tighter measures needed as COVID-19 infections likely to 'rise sharply' at current transmission rates: MOH
The two clusters are linked, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Monday. He added at a press conference on Tuesday that the Jurong Fishery Port cluster may have preceded the KTV cluster.
Co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force Gan Kim Yong said that the cluster linked to Jurong Fishery Port is spreading among a “wider segment” of the population, including the elderly who are at the highest risk if they contract the virus.
It has also spread to several markets in the community which are frequented by seniors, said Mr Gan at the press conference by the task force.
About 81 seniors aged 60 and above were infected over the last seven days. Among them, 12 were unvaccinated, he added.
“This is of great concern to us because almost 30 per cent of the elderly population above 70 years old remain unvaccinated. Overall, close to 50 per cent of our resident population is still not fully vaccinated, and therefore not fully protected,” said Mr Gan, who is also Trade and Industry Minister.
“Given the speed of infections and the rate that new clusters are growing, we will need to temporarily slow down the spread of the virus to give us time to raise the coverage of our vaccination programme, especially among the older population to protect them against the infection.”
Asked if a blanket closure of all wet markets is an option being considered and whether that could be extended to others like supermarkets, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said the challenge with closure of markets is the risk that people may “congregate and crowd in another market”.
“And if there is a cryptic transmission or (a) cryptic case in this other market, then the crowding of people in that particular market may spawn yet another large cluster,” he added.
“Then you say well if that’s the case, why not close all the markets? But if we were to close all the markets, again where will people crowd? They may crowd in supermarkets and will cryptic transmission happen there too?”
Mr Wong, who also co-chairs the COVID-19 task force, added: “So this has always been a challenge we've had with food outlets, particularly markets and supermarkets, because we’re concerned that people (may think) there is going to be a shortage and therefore 'I must go out and buy'."
That is why the authorities have decided to put in place SafeEntry check-ins across all markets progressively, as well as testing for "all market stallholders to make sure that they are COVID-free".
Authorities are also reminding the public that "there is no need to go out and rush to buy groceries and food".
"In fact under Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), it's best that you stay home, minimise your movement and activity level, scale back as much as you can. And if we all do that, then I think we can keep things under control," Mr Wong said.