SINGAPORE: Singapore will significantly relax COVID-19 safety measures, but will also continue to take a “measured approach” to opening up, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Thursday (Mar 24).
This approach has "served us well over the past two years”, said Mr Lee in a national address.
“After this major step, we will wait a while to let the situation stabilise. If all goes well, we will ease up further.”
Earlier, he said that Singapore will allow gatherings in groups of up to 10 people, and that the wearing of masks outdoors will be optional, from Mar 29.
Singapore will also increase the capacity limit for workplaces and events.
But the country should also be “psychologically prepared for more twists and turns ahead”, he cautioned.
“With more interactions, we too may see another wave of cases, and Omicron will not be the last variant we encounter. The virus will continue to evolve,” said Mr Lee.
“Hopefully, new variants will become progressively milder and more flu-like. But it is also possible that more aggressive and dangerous mutants will turn up, just like Delta did.”
If that happens, Singapore may have to backtrack and tighten up restrictions again, he said.
“We cannot rule this out, even though we hope it will not be necessary. But whatever happens, we now have the knowledge and the means to keep everyone safe.”
This could mean giving everyone another booster jab, or administering an updated vaccine, Mr Lee said.
BORDER MEASURES TO EASE
The Prime Minister also announced that Singapore will ease travel restrictions substantially with a new vaccinated travel framework.
Mr Lee said that Singapore was cautious earlier because of uncertainty over the Omicron variant’s impact, but imported cases now constitute only a very small proportion of cases.
"We can therefore safely open up our borders,” he said.
He added that Singapore will “drastically streamline” testing and quarantine requirements for travellers, and that the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force will provide details.
This simplified vaccinated travel framework will let Singaporeans travel abroad more easily – “almost like before COVID-19”, Mr Lee said. It will also lift most restrictions for fully vaccinated visitors entering Singapore, he said.
“This will reconnect Singapore with the world. It will give a much-needed boost to businesses, particularly the tourism sector, and it will help Singapore reclaim its position as a business and aviation hub,” said Mr Lee.
"DO NOT THROW ALL CAUTION TO THE WIND"
Mr Lee said that the domestic and cross-border changes represent a “major step towards living with COVID-19”, but stop short of a complete opening up.
“We remain watchful because COVID-19 may yet bring further surprises,” he said.
“Some countries have taken a ‘Freedom Day’ approach. They have declared the pandemic over, relaxed all restrictions at once.
“Now they are anxiously watching their infection and mortality numbers rising rapidly again.”
Mr Lee urged Singapore residents to take the announcements on Thursday “in the right spirit”.
“Resume more normal lives, enjoy larger gatherings of family and friends, go outdoors without masks, or reunite with loved ones abroad. But do not throw all caution to the wind,” he said.
He asked everyone to comply with the revised safe management measures, and to test themselves if they feel ill, and to isolate if they test positive.
“If you test negative, and decide to go out, please wear a mask to protect others, even outdoors, just in case,” he said.
“Let us all continue to exercise personal and social responsibility: To keep ourselves well, to keep others safe, to avoid adding to the burden on our healthcare workers.”