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COVID-19: Social gatherings of up to 8 people allowed from Dec 28, further reopening of activities in Phase 3

COVID-19: Social gatherings of up to 8 people allowed from Dec 28, further reopening of activities in Phase 3

Office workers wearing protective face masks walk in Singapore's central business district, during the COVID-19 outbreak in Singapore on Aug 17, 2020. (File Photo: Reuters/Edgar Su)

SINGAPORE: Social gatherings of up to eight people will be allowed when Singapore moves into Phase 3 of its reopening from Dec 28, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Monday (Dec 14). 

This is up from the current number of five, said the ministry in a press release that followed Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's address to the nation, in which he described Singapore's move towards Phase 3 as a "calibrated, careful move".  

READ: Singapore to start Phase 3 of COVID-19 reopening on Dec 28

READ: In full: PM Lee's address on the COVID-19 situation

Households will also be allowed to receive up to eight visitors at any one time, said MOH.

Additionally, the authorities will increase capacity limits for venues. For malls and large standalone stores, the capacity limit will be increased from 10 square metres per person to eight square metres per person.  

Attractions may start applying to the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) to increase their operating capacities from 50 per cent to up to 65 per cent, said the Health Ministry, adding that measures must continue to be put in place to prevent crowding in popular areas.   

WORSHIP SERVICES AND WEDDINGS

The capacity for congregational and other worship services will be increased to up to 250 people, said the Health Ministry. For congregational services, this means multiple zones of up to 50 people each. 

Live performance elements will also be allowed at congregational and other worship services, as well as religious rites or prayers conducted at places of worship, with the necessary safe management measures in place, said MOH in the press release. 

Religious organisations have been piloting increased capacity and the allowance of live music for congregational and other worship services since Oct 3, said the ministry. 

“The pilot has shown that the ROs were able to enforce safe management measures such as ensuring clear segregation between zones and minimising intermingling between groups of up to five persons,” it added. 

For marriage solemnisations at home, the hosting household will be able to invite up to eight visitors in Phase 3, excluding members of the hosting household, the solemniser and vendors, said the Health Ministry. Previously, a total of 10 people, including members of the household but excluding the solemniser and vendors, were allowed. 

For marriage solemnisations in indoor venues, funerals and funerary-related activities, live instrumental music, with the exception of wind instruments, will be allowed with the necessary safe management measures in place, MOH said. 

LIVE PERFORMANCES AND NIGHTLIFE

For live performances in the arts and culture sector, up to 250 people will be allowed for indoor live performances, in zones of up to 50 people each, said the Health Ministry. 

Live performances have been allowed to resume since Nov 1 and some venues have been piloting larger-scale performances, MOH said in the press release. 

The capacity for outdoor live performance pilots will be expanded from 100 people to 250 people to ensure that venues are still able to safely manage larger outdoor performances and “mitigate the gathering of peripheral crowds”, it added. 

READ: Watch: PM Lee addresses Singapore on COVID-19 situation

The Government will continue to conduct pilots in some “higher-risk” activities and settings such as busking, live performances in outdoor venues, karaoke and nightlife. This will allow ministries to “assess how these activities can take place and scale up safely”, said MOH.

“If the local COVID-19 situation remains stable and we are able to deploy more of our enablers to allow more activities to resume safely, the multi-ministry task force will consider allowing further resumption of activities over the course of Phase 3,” the press release read. 

TRACETOGETHER AND SAFEENTRY

TraceTogether-only SafeEntry, or where the TraceTogether app or token is needed for SafeEntry check-ins, will only be implemented early next year, MOH announced.

This is after everyone who wants a TraceTogether token has had a chance to collect it at a community club or community centre in their constituency, it added. 

Until TraceTogether-only SafeEntry is implemented, visitors can still use the app, SingPass mobile or QR reader apps to check in via SafeEntry. They can also use their identity cards with barcodes, such as their NRICs, or Pioneer or Merdeka Generation cards. 

READ: TraceTogether adoption up to more than 60% as privacy concerns wane; users still bothered about battery drain 

Speaking at a COVID-19  multi-ministry task force press conference on Monday, Minister for Education Lawrence Wong said authorities may further ease measures within Phase 3. 

"Within Phase 3 itself, we will be prepared to allow for further relaxation of the measures, be it for domestic activities within Singapore or with regard to our control measures at the borders,” said Mr Wong,  who co-chairs the task force.

“We are now at a significant milestone and at a new phase of fighting the virus. But all our hard-won gains against COVID-19 will evaporate if we start to relax now."

With the festive season coming up, there may be groups of people who “let their guard down” and “get complacent”, he added.

“Because it is a festive period, there’s a tendency to get into a celebratory mood, and all the more the risk of complacency sets in,” he said, urging Singaporeans to be vigilant and continue with safe management measures. 

There will be safe distancing ambassadors and other officers conducting their usual checks at the hotspots across Singapore, added Mr Wong. 

“It’s a reminder to everyone, let’s take this seriously. We have all seen some close misses in the recent weeks where we’ve had cases of people with infection without realising it, get together multiple tables, and they could very well have formed large clusters,” said the Education Minister.

“Fortunately, that did not happen. If it had, we would have had much larger outbreaks by now. So let’s not take this lightly, it is quite serious.”  

EFFECT OF VACCINES ON SAFE MANAGEMENT MEASURES

The Prime Minister also announced on Monday that the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) has approved the COVID-19 vaccine developed by US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer and German firm BioNTech. 

The first shipment is due to arrive in Singapore by the end of December, making the country one of the first to obtain the vaccine, he said.

READ: Singapore approves Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, first shipment expected by end-December: PM Lee

READ: Data on Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine 'robustly and thoroughly reviewed', says HSA 

Responding to questions about whether the vaccine will mean that safe management measures will change, Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong said Singapore has to be “quite careful” with the vaccination. 

While it protects the person who is vaccinated, evidence on whether it has protection against the transmission from the person who is vaccinated to another person is still being studied, he added. 

“Despite vaccination, all the safe distancing measures must still continue to be observed, and we will continue to monitor the development in this area and we will adjust our safe management measures progressively as time goes on,” said Mr Gan.

Singapore must look at the vaccination, testing and safe management measures “holistically”, and make sure that it has “a full suite” of precautions and safeguards, said Mr Wong. 

“We will need to assess the effectiveness of the vaccine, not just in protecting yourself which we already know but to the extent to which the vaccine will help reduce transmission risk ... before we can then look at it holistically and see what sort of adjustments can be made in the other safe management measures,” he added. 

“So for now, please understand, a vaccine is not a ticket to freedom to do anything you want.” 

Addressing questions on whether taking the vaccine will mean that one does not need to undergo pre-departure or post-arrival COVID-19 testing for travel, Mr Wong said the Government will take into account the fact that more people will be vaccinated next year and make adjustments accordingly. 

“For example, with vaccinations in place, and if travellers can show proof and certification or a vaccination, then the kind of test we administer might well vary because we would then want to test to make sure that the person has antibodies in response to the vaccine,” he added. 

“And if so, then it’s an indication that the vaccine is effective. We might not be administering a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test.” 

Singapore is taking more risks moving into Phase 3, but it is a “calculated risk”, said Mr Wong. 

“It’s carefully calibrated to allow us to begin or resume more activities. I think we should consider this a privilege, not abuse it, and then continue our mindset of vigilance, of discipline and focus as long as possible, until we complete this fight against COVID-19.” 

As Singapore moves towards Phase 3, the Government expects that the risk of infection will go up as more people are allowed to gather, said Mr Gan.

“That means that the enforcement, the discipline, has to be strengthened and tightened, so that we can continue to contain the risk and keep the number of cases as low as possible, so that we can have a smooth and safe journey through Phase 3.” 

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Source: CNA/hw(hs)

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