COVID-19: Phase 2 of post-circuit breaker reopening could begin before end-June, says Lawrence Wong
SINGAPORE: Phase 2 of Singapore’s post-circuit breaker reopening could start before the end of June, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said on Thursday (May 28).
The move from Phase 1 to the next will depend on the number of COVID-19 transmissions in the community in the first two weeks of June, he added.
"If infection rates remain low and stable, then we will decide by middle of June whether or not we want to take the next step to Phase 2. This means Phase 2 could happen before end of June," Mr Wong said at a press conference by the multi-ministry task force on COVID-19.
Singapore authorities had, earlier this month, announced initial plans to move the country out of its circuit breaker period in three phases from Jun 2.
About 75 per cent of the economy will resume operations in Phase 1.
DINE IN, USE OF SPORTS FACILITIES, SOCIAL GATHERINGS ALLOWED IN PHASE 2
In Phase 2, retail shops, consumer services and sports facilities such as stadiums and swimming pools will be allowed to reopen.
People would be able to dine in at food outlets, subject to a maximum of five people.
Social gatherings of up to five people will be allowed. Within the home, households may receive up to five visitors per day, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).
“There is no magic number … we think that five is a reasonable balance due to the assessment of risk,” said Mr Wong.
“Five means that if an infection was to happen, then you limit that cluster to that group of five people who are together with that infection person at any one time.
“If you obviously allow 10 people, then potentially the cluster that can form (and multiply) will be larger,” Mr Wong added. “If you set it on the other hand, very tightly - two people - then … potentially a lot of families will not be able to gather together.”
As for activities that involve large groups of people gathering in enclosed spaces like libraries, museums, bars, clubs and movie theatres, the Government will “take a more cautious approach” on when they can restart operations, Mr Wong said.
The authorities will begin discussions with businesses in this category to ensure that they have the safeguards in place that would allow them to operate again.
They may not reopen at the beginning of Phase 2 but they could still open up later “but still within Phase 2”, said Mr Wong.
He declined to commit to an exact date, cautioning that discussions with these businesses could “stretch on for a while”.
In Phase 2, it will still be compulsory to wear a mask outside the house.
Seniors should continue to exercise extra caution and stay at home as much as possible, said MOH.
EASING TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS
The Government is also in talks with their foreign counterparts to establish travel bubbles with countries where the virus is under control, Mr Wong said, adding that the stage of discussions vary from country to country.
READ: COVID-19: Singapore in discussion with other countries on lifting travel restrictions with safeguards in place
Both sides will have to implement testing regimes. For instance, travellers may have to be tested before and after their flight, or download the TraceTogether app while they are in Singapore, said Mr Wong.
These safe "green lane" arrangements with countries will only be for essential travel, he emphasised, to cater to businesses that require their employees to travel around the region.
The Government is prioritising business travel agreements because the focus is to protect the local workforce, Mr Wong said.
“If the business says, ‘look, (if) my people cannot move around, then I might relocate to another country’, then jobs will be lost," he added.
“Having these arrangement does not mean that we will allow mass market travel … which I think will take a lot longer to resume, not just in Singapore, but also internationally."
REINSTATING THE CIRCUIT BREAKER
Even as businesses prepare to reopen, authorities warn that some form of movement restrictions may have to be introduced again if the number of community cases increases quickly after the circuit breaker ends.
The number of COVID-19 cases is expected to go up post-circuit breaker, but if the numbers are "slightly higher" yet remaining stable, the situation will be considered under control, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
Beyond numbers, it will also depend on the nature of the cases - whether they occur in high-risk locations or areas that produce large clusters.
"These will be part of the assessment whether or not we'll be able to progress into Phase 2, and when to progress," said Mr Gan.
As for whether Singapore will see the return of some circuit breaker measures, Mr Gan said that the Government may take a "more targeted approach".
"If they are in a particular setting, we may decide to have a tighter control in specific sectors or specific settings so that we do not need to have a broad-based circuit breaker approach again," he said.
Businesses that are unable to resume operations immediately after the circuit breaker should use the downtime to put in place safety measures, said Mr Wong.
"Businesses must be aware that if a case were to emerge in their workplace setting, if clusters were to emerge later, they run the risk of having their entire outlet, business or shop closed for quite a while," he said.
“I think this should give every incentive for businesses to take responsibility, and to do their part to put in place all the necessary precautions and safeguards so that they can resume and reopen safely."
Watch the full press conference: