Singapore stands down COVID-19 rules: What you need to know
From the removal of the mask requirement in public transport and some healthcare settings to scaling down financial support, here are the changes to Singapore's COVID-19 policy.
SINGAPORE: The Government announced on Thursday (Feb 9) that it will step down its COVID-19 measures and also its disease alert to the lowest level, as Singapore establishes a new endemic norm.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said the situation in Singapore has remained “stable” in recent months, despite increased travel over the year-end period, the Northern Hemisphere winter season and China’s shift from a zero-COVID policy.
Here are the changes announced on Thursday:
BACK TO DORSCON GREEN, MTF STEPS DOWN
Singapore will move its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) tier to Green from Monday, putting COVID-19 in the same category as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and the H7N9 bird flu strain.
According to MOH, this is due to the mild nature of the disease, especially among those who have been vaccinated, and the minimal disruption posed to healthcare capacity and daily lives.
The DORSCON level has been maintained at Yellow – the second-lowest tier – since April last year, after more than two years at Orange.
Additionally, the ministry announced that the multi-ministry task force, first convened in January 2020 as a whole-of-Government response to the COVID-19 pandemic, would be stood down.
MOH will take over management of the COVID-19 situation, but said an appropriate multi-agency structure will be reactivated if it worsens significantly.
MASK REQUIREMENT TO BE LIFTED
From Monday, masks will no longer be mandatory on public transport as well as some healthcare and residential care settings.
However, visitors, staff and patients will still be required to wear masks in settings where there is interaction with patients as well as indoor patient-facing areas.
These include hospital wards, emergency departments, consultation rooms and waiting areas, pharmacies, clinics and nursing homes.
MOH said this will be a ministry requirement rather than mandated under the COVID-19 regulations, to better protect patients and healthcare workers from infectious diseases in general.
This does not apply to individuals who are in a hospital area not related to the “delivery of care” – such as a cafeteria or car park, MOH’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak clarified.
The ministry, however, still encouraged the public – especially the elderly and immunocompromised – to wear masks in crowded places or when meeting vulnerable people. They similarly advised those with COVID-19 symptoms or other respiratory infections to wear a mask when leaving their homes.
Other authorities may also require mask-wearing, just as the Singapore Food Agency has required food handlers to wear a mask or spit guard for food safety reasons.
BORDER MEASURES TO BE SCRAPPED
Singapore will also scrap all COVID-19 border measures from Monday, as the global pandemic situation improves and imported cases make low impact on the healthcare capacity.
All travellers, including those who are not vaccinated, will no longer have to show proof of a negative pre-departure COVID-19 test before entering Singapore.
COVID-19 travel insurance will also no longer be required for non-vaccinated visitors.
The Vaccinated Travel Framework will remain in place for reactivation if there are “international developments of concern”, such as new severe variants or signs that Singapore’s healthcare capacity is strained by imported cases.
Travellers will also be continue to be screened for infectious diseases such as Yellow Fever, MERS and Ebola.
All travellers, including Singapore residents, will still have to submit a health declaration via the SG Arrival Card e-service when entering the country.
MOH said travellers should check the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) website for the latest border measures before entering Singapore.
GOODBYE TRACETOGETHER APP, SAFEENTRY
The TraceTogether app can be uninstalled from Monday. Enterprises may also do so for the SafeEntry (Business) app.
Members of the public can also return their tokens to community clubs and centres from Monday to Mar 12. They can also do so on behalf of family members and friends.
The returned tokens will be sent for “refurbishment and recycling”, said the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office (SNDGO).
MOH said that it no longer requires those infected with COVID-19 to submit TraceTogether data, and SafeEntry data is no longer being collected. It has also deleted all identifiable TraceTogether and SafeEntry data from its servers and databases.
However, the ministry said it is useful to keep both systems ready for reactivation for the contingency, when a new, more dangerous variant of concern breaks out.
“For this purpose, registration details such as name, business UEN and mobile number will be retained in the system, to minimise the steps taken by individuals and companies to set up and re-register for TraceTogether and Safe Entry, should it be needed,” it said.
Both apps will remain available on the App Store, Google Play Store and the Huawei AppGallery.
COVID-19 PROTOCOLS TO BE REMOVED
Protocols 1-2-3, which determine what individuals should do if they are unwell or test positive for COVID-19, will be stood down from Monday, MOH said.
A new general advisory will be implemented. Under this, medically vulnerable persons who have Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) symptoms, as well as those with severe, prolonged or worsening ARI symptoms should see a doctor.
Those with mild ARI symptoms should stay at home until symptoms resolve.
MOH said those who are symptomatic, or asymptomatic but tested positive for COVID-19, individuals should exercise social responsibility by wearing masks, minimising social interactions and avoiding crowded places if they need to go out.
SCALING DOWN COVID-19 FINANCIAL SUPPORT
Financial support for testing and treatment of COVID-19 will be further scaled back, MOH announced on Thursday, but added that vaccines and oral antivirals will remain fully subsidised for eligible patients.
The changes, which will take effect from Apr 1, will bring financial support for COVID-19 testing and treatment in line with that of other acute illnesses.
All COVID-19 patients visiting hospitals or COVID-19 treatment facilities will no longer receive 100 per cent subsidy, regardless of their vaccination status.
Instead, regular healthcare safety nets - such as Government subsidies, MediShield Life and MediSave – will apply to Singaporeans and permanent residents to defray healthcare expenses.
Community isolation facilities will also no longer be required for COVID-19, but some will be maintained for patients who want to self-isolate for valid reasons.
However, they will be charged for their stay and will not be able to use Government subsidies, MediShield Life or MediSafe to pay for their bills.
Patients will also be required to pay for any COVID-19 testing at primary care settings, such as polyclinics and general practitioner clinics. The fees will be subject to prevailing subsidies.
COVID-19 jabs under the National Vaccination Programme will continue to be offered free to all Singaporeans, permanent residents, long-term pass-holders and certain short-term pass-holders.
Additionally, with a higher risk of severe COVID-19, such as the immunocompromised and individuals with some comorbidities, may also be referred by their doctors for free telemedicine support.
MEASURES FOR MIGRANT WORKERS IN DORMITORIES
The current COVID-19 health measures for migrant workers living in dormitories will align with community guidelines from Mar 1.
Workers will also be free to visit the community without applying for a pass from Monday.
Migrant workers have been able to exit dormitories and visit community areas since the beginning of 2022, using the Popular Places Pass, which will be discontinued on Monday.
Also from Mar 1, those with mild respiratory infection symptoms may recover in their dormitory or see a doctor at any medical centre for migrant workers under the Primary Care Plan.
COVID-19 tests will only be administered for symptomatic vulnerable workers or those with severe symptoms. Additionally, workers who test positive will not need to be taken to COVID-19 recovery facilies.
Only those with more serious symptoms, such as shortness of breath and chest pain, will be taken to the emergency department at hospitals.