Transition to a 'new normal' after circuit breaker: How will measures be lifted beyond Phase 1?

Transition to a 'new normal' after circuit breaker: How will measures be lifted beyond Phase 1?

FILE PHOTO: Spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Singapore
An office worker wearing a face mask in Singapore on Apr 7, 2020. (Photo: Reuters/Edgar Su)

SINGAPORE: All students will be able to return to schools and people will be able to dine out only if the COVID-19 situation remains under control following the exit from the “circuit breaker” on Jun 1.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on Tuesday (May 19) that economic activities that do not pose a high risk of transmission will restart first on Jun 2. Only a portion of students will attend school, while some cohorts will alternate between home-based learning and returning to school for lessons.

Many shops will remain closed and eateries can only provide takeaway services for this period.


READ: Singapore to exit circuit breaker on Jun 1, visiting of parents, places of worship allowed with restrictions

READ: Singapore to gradually reopen borders, plans to resume essential travel among countries with low COVID-19 transmission rate

"If community transmission rates can remain low and the situation remains under control over the next few weeks, we can then move into Phase 2 of safe transition, with the gradual resumption of more activities," said Mr Gan at a virtual press conference.

This may take at least four weeks, said Mr Gan.

He added: "We will need to, by and large, observe two periods of incubation - each period of incubation is 14 days. So minimally we will have to look at 28 days before we think about additional relaxation."

The daily community cases, which have fallen to single digits in recent days, are expected to rise with increased activity from Jun 2. The COVID-19 situation among foreign workers in dormitories should also remain under control before Singapore can move into Phase 2 of its reopening.

READ: Singapore reports 451 new COVID-19 cases, taking country's total to 28,794

READ: Number of discharged COVID-19 patients in Singapore crosses 10,000 mark

READ: COVID-19: DPM Heng Swee Keat to deliver ministerial statement on further help for businesses, individuals

"We have to do this in a very careful and calibrated manner, because we do not want to risk a flaring up of the virus again. And importantly, we do not want to sacrifice the efforts that all of us have put in over the past few weeks in controlling the outbreak," said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the COVID-19 task force.

He added that the opening up in Phase 2 will be done in stages.

More firms and businesses, starting with food and beverage dine-in and retail outlets, gyms and fitness studios, and tuition and enrichment centres, will gradually be allowed to reopen, with safe management measures in place.

READ: COVID-19: Graduating primary, secondary students to attend school on weekdays after circuit breaker ends; others to rotate weekly

Employers should, however, still ensure that those who can work from home continue to do so. 

“Depending on the situation, we hope to have all students fully return to school and institutes of higher learning will increase the number of students back on campus at any one time for face-to-face learning,” said the Ministry of Health in a press release.

Sports, recreation and outdoor facilities will also start to reopen, subject to safe management practices for both facility staff and users being in place.

“Businesses not included in phase one resumption on Jun 2 should also actively prepare for subsequent resumption,” said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing.

Some will need to put in place additional measures in order to resume business operations safely, while others will require a new business model because their pre-COVID-19 activities are unlikely to resume, he said.

"NEW NORMAL"

Authorities will continue to ease measures gradually until the nation reaches a “new normal” or Phase 3, a state expected to remain until an effective vaccine or treatment for COVID-19 is developed. 

It could take multiple steps and months to reach this phase, Mr Gan said.

"So the period is less certain, but it will involve months, it will not be just weeks. It may take three months, six months ... it may take longer depending on how the situation evolves," he said.

READ: COVID-19: Pre-schools, early intervention centres to reopen gradually from Jun 2

READ: Polytechnic lectures to remain online after circuit breaker ends, ITE students to rotate between online and on-campus lessons

"At the end of Phase 2, we will naturally arrive at Phase 3, which is a steady state ... a sustainable situation where we are able to make Singapore safe, and there will be some measures continuing to be in place."

By this third phase, social, cultural, religious and business gatherings or events would have resumed, although gathering sizes would still have to be limited in order to prevent large clusters from arising. 

Seniors, who are more likely to develop severe complications from the coronavirus, would have been able to resume day-to-day activities while practising safe distancing measures.

READ: SAF, SPF and SCDF to resume basic training with COVID-19 preventive measures from May 26

Services and activities that involve significant prolonged close contact, such as spas and massages, or significant crowd management risk in an enclosed space, such as cinemas, theatres, bars, pubs and nightclubs, would also have been allowed to reopen.

MASKS ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT

With a surge in commuters as people return to work and school, businesses will be required to stagger their working hours to minimise travel during peak periods. 

Despite these efforts, it will be difficult to maintain physical distancing between commuters, especially during peak periods, authorities said. 

Commuters will be required to wear a mask, to refrain from talking to one another or on their mobile phones, and to maintain good personal hygiene. Transport operators have also stepped up the cleaning of buses and trains, and will use anti-microbial chemical coatings on exposed surfaces. 

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Source: CNA/hm

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