Singapore is cracking down in its battle against the spread of COVID-19 with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announcing a series of enhanced measures to counter the rising number of local cases in recent weeks.
“Despite our good contact tracing, for nearly half of these cases, we do not know where or from whom the person caught the virus,” said PM Lee addressing the nation earlier today. “This suggests that there are more people out there who are infected, but who have not been identified. And they may be passing the virus unknowingly to others.”
The recent identification of clusters at foreign worker dormitories, and at a nursing home, were also worrying, said PM Lee, adding that the new measures would act as a “circuit breaker” in the spread of the coronavirus in Singapore.
“We have decided that instead of tightening incrementally over the next few weeks, we should make a decisive move now, to pre-empt escalating infections,” he said.
“This circuit breaker will apply for one month, in the first instance”.
Most workplaces to be closed, except for essential services and key economic sectors. Food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services will remain open.
In order to not disrupt economic sectors that are strategic, or form part of a global supply chain, people working in these industries can continue to go to work, with safe-distancing measures in place.
People are encouraged to work from home as much as possible. Foreign workers on construction sites and in shipyards cannot work and the government will make arrangements to look after them.
These measures will take effect next Tuesday.
Measures for schools
Full home-based learning in schools and institutes of higher learning (IHLs). MOE will work with the schools to implement full home-based learning starting next Wednesday.
All preschool and student care centres will also be closed, but will provide limited services for children of parents who have to continue working and are unable to make alternative care arrangements.
Restrictions on gatherings and going out
Restrictions on movements and gatherings of people to be tightened. People are advised to stay at home, as much as possible.
People should avoid socialising with others beyond their own household. Gatherings should be confined to the household and people should avoid visiting even extended family who are not staying with them, especially if they are elderly or vulnerable.
People should go out only to do essential things: for work, if they are in essential services or key economic sectors; to buy food at markets, or to take out from restaurants and hawker centres; or to exercise in the neighbourhood park, keeping a safe distance from others.
“The spirit of these measures is to get all of us to minimise physical contact. If we don’t go out, if we avoid contact with others, then the virus won’t be able to spread. It is as simple as that,” said PM Lee.
He also noted that not going out “is very hard to do”, and that it may be difficult to practise safe distancing in crowded places like hawker centres and wet markets.
“It will help if we all adjust our habits. For example, do our marketing on weekdays instead of weekends to avoid the crowd,” he said, adding that Safe Distancing Ambassadors will be deployed to encourage people to not crowd together.
“This is the only effective way to slow the transmission of the virus, so that we gradually bring our numbers down. It is also the best way to keep our families safe, and particularly to protect our seniors from getting ill,” said PM Lee, asking Singaporeans to “please bear with the painful adjustments that we have make”.
PM Lee also said that on Monday in Parliament, DPM Heng will announce additional support for households and businesses, over and above what was provided in the two earlier Budgets.
He also said that the government will legislate to require landlords to pass on property tax rebates fully to their tenants.
Additionally, the government intends to pass new temporary legislation to let businesses and individuals defer certain contractual obligations for a period, such as paying rent, repaying loans, or completing work.
Rethinking advice on face masks
Revising the earlier government guidelines on face masks, PM Lee said that with the changing situation, they now believe that “there are some cases out there in the community going undetected, though probably still not that many”.
Since it is now evident that an infected person can show no symptoms, and yet still pass on the virus to others, the WHO and the US Centre for Disease Control are both revising their opinion on using masks.
In line with that, the Singapore government is no longer discouraging people from wearing masks.
“Wearing a mask may help to protect others, in case you have the virus but don’t know it. This is so that you keep your droplets to yourself. It can also protect yourself a little better, especially if you are elderly, or vulnerable because of pre-existing conditions,” said PM Lee.
He emphasised that surgical masks should be conserved for healthcare workers in clinics and hospitals and thus, others in the community are encouraged to use reusable masks.
He also announced that from this Sunday, the government will distribute reusable masks to all households but added that “mask or no mask, you still need to wash your hands, and keep a safe distance away from other people.”
“The next few weeks will be pivotal” said PM Lee. “It will be a long fight but if any country can see this through, it is Singapore. We have the resources. We have the determination. We are united”.