Mask-wearing no longer mandatory on public transport from Feb 13, as Singapore steps down COVID-19 restrictions
The DORSCON level will also be lowered to Green and the pandemic multi-ministry task force stood down.
SINGAPORE: The wearing of masks on public transport as well as some healthcare and residential care settings will no longer be mandatory from Monday (Feb 13), when Singapore also steps down its disease alert to the lowest level since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Thursday that it will however retain the practice of mask-wearing for visitors, staff and patients in settings where there is interaction with patients as well as in indoor patient-facing areas.
These include hospital wards, emergency departments, consultation rooms and waiting areas, pharmacies, clinics and nursing homes.
This will be an MOH requirement rather than mandated under COVID-19 regulations, to better protect patients and healthcare workers from infectious diseases in general, the ministry said in a press release.
Should someone be in a hospital area not related to the "delivery of care" - such as a cafeteria or car park - mask-wearing is not mandatory, MOH's director of medical services Kenneth Mak clarified at a COVID-19 multi-ministry task force (MTF) press conference on Thursday.
"Hospitals will look at their operational requirements, the setting and see whether or not there are opportunities to lighten up and minimise that burden of mask wearing in those settings," he added.
"So it is a more refined policy position, but the base principle of requiring mask-wearing in care areas still remains."
MOH said it would still encourage members of the public, especially the elderly and immunocompromised, to wear masks in crowded places or when meeting vulnerable people.
Those with symptoms of COVID-19 or other respiratory infections are also strongly advised to wear a mask when leaving their homes, said the ministry.
Since April last year, Singapore has also maintained a Yellow status - the second lowest tier - under its Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) framework.
From Monday, it will move down to code Green - putting COVID-19 in the same category as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and the H7N9 bird flu strain.
MOH said in its press release that this was due to the mild nature of the disease especially among vaccinated individuals, and the minimal disruption posed to healthcare capacity and daily lives.
It was three years ago when Singapore first raised its DORSCON level to Orange in February 2020 and implemented mask-wearing requirements in April 2020.
At present, Singapore’s COVID-19 situation 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, said MOH.
The local population in Singapore has also developed a high level of hybrid immunity and is well protected from severe COVID-19, it added.
"We are now ready to take the next step in our journey towards living with COVID-19, and the transition to an endemic COVID-19 new norm," said MTF co-chair and Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong.
"It does not mean there will be no more COVID-19 infections ... but we can now live a normal life while remaining vigilant."
MOH also announced that the MTF, convened in January 2020 as a whole-of-Government response to COVID-19, would be stepped down.
MOH will take over management of the COVID-19 situation. But if the situation worsens significantly, the Government will reactivate an appropriate multi-agency crisis management structure.
REMOVAL OF COVID-19 PROTOCOLS
MOH also said it would stand down, from Feb 13, Protocols 1-2-3 - which determine what individuals should do if they are unwell or test positive for COVID-19.
Under a new general advisory, medically vulnerable persons that have Acute Respiratory Infection (ARI) symptoms, as well as persons with severe, prolonged or worsening ARI symptoms, should see a doctor.
Those with mild ARI symptoms should stay at home until symptoms resolve.
If there is a need to go out while symptomatic, or if asymptomatic but positive for COVID-19, individuals should exercise social responsibility by minimising social interactions, wearing a mask and avoiding crowded places, said MOH.
The ministry also announced the stepping down of contact tracing tool TraceTogether (TT) and the SafeEntry (SE) digital check-in system.
Members of the public can uninstall their TraceTogether App, and companies may do the same for the SafeEntry (Business) App.
A TraceTogether token return exercise will take place from Feb 13 to Mar 12, and members of the public can return their tokens at counters at all 108 Community Clubs or Centres (CCs).
"Over the past few months, as the pandemic situation stabilised, the Government has progressively stepped down TT and SE," said MOH.
"We no longer require infected persons to submit TT data, SE data is no longer being collected, and MOH has deleted all identifiable TT and SE data from its servers and databases."
At the same time, MOH said it was "useful" to keep both systems ready for reactivation in the event that new, more dangerous variants of concern emerge. For this purpose, registration details such as names and mobile numbers will be retained in the system, said the ministry.
Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, who also co-chairs the MTF, said that there would be a "comprehensive" after-action review of how the pandemic was handled in Singapore. A report will be published, and it will be debated in Parliament in due course, he added.
"The journey to this point has not been easy. We've had many ups and downs, we've had to deal with many unexpected curveballs and surprises along the way," said Mr Wong at what he later said was officially the last MTF press conference.
"But we managed to reach this point together because we all did our part."
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