Singapore may present plans for Phase 3 reopening in coming weeks, says minister

Lawrence Wong says the progressive trajectory towards the third phase of reopening Singapore's economy is contingent on the people doing their part. — Ministry of Communications and Information pic via TODAY
Lawrence Wong says the progressive trajectory towards the third phase of reopening Singapore's economy is contingent on the people doing their part. — Ministry of Communications and Information pic via TODAY

SINGAPORE, Sept 24 — In the next few weeks, the government may be releasing details on how it plans to take the country through to the next phase of reopening the economy.

Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the governmental task force tackling Covid-19, announced this at an online press briefing yesterday.

Under this plan, border control measures will be relaxed, as will the number of people who can gather when dining out, when doing home visits or at places of worship.

Singapore is now in Phase Two of a gradual reopening. Phase One happened at the start of June after stay-home curbs in April and May during the circuit breaker were lifted, and some social and business activities were allowed to resume.

The task force had said before that it will take months before Phase Three, which is the final stage of the reopening, can happen.

This is the stage when the situation in the country reaches “a new normal” and is expected to remain until an effective vaccine or treatment for Covid-19 is available.

Asked yesterday what this final phase will look like and whether the limit of five people at social gatherings will be lifted along with the relaxed measures, Wong said: “I'm not sure if we are opening up everything else. We are still doing things in a calibrated and controlled manner.”

He was speaking to reporters after the task force announced several changes to Covid-19 regulations and safety measures, such as workers to be allowed to return to the workplace for not more than half their total working time, and wedding receptions and religious prayer services permitted to have up to 100 attendees.

“These progressive steps of opening are part of that road map towards Phase Three and as I said earlier, we will work through the potential pathway to Phase Three,” Wong said. “We will share that with everyone, when we are ready, perhaps in a few weeks’ time.”

Wong and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who also co-chairs the task force, said that during the transition to the final phase and even during the phrase itself, restrictions and safety rules could still be revised or tightened depending on the risks and transmission rates of the disease.

This is especially if large clusters start forming again, as are the experiences in other countries.

In June, the task force had said that during Phase Three, seniors should be able to resume day-to-day activities while practising safe distancing and avoiding crowded areas.

Services and activities that involve significant prolonged close contact such as spas, and those that have a significant crowd management risk in an enclosed space such as nightclubs will also be allowed to reopen.

However, even as the authorities chart a path towards relaxing various restrictions, Gan cautioned yesterday that some may have to be tightened along the way.

For example, enforcement of safe distancing measures at food- and-beverage (F&B) establishments were tightened in the last few weeks.

Earlier this month, the task force said that the authorities will no longer issue warnings to F&B establishments that flout any safe management regulations. Instead, enforcement action will be taken against them, even for first-time offenders.

Gan said that a further reopening of the economy requires balance and calibration of measures.

“From time to time, based on our risk assessment on the various activities and various sectors... we need to open somewhat to allow the economy and associate activities to resume.

“At the same time, we need to tighten somewhat to ensure that our safe distancing measures are in place,” he added.

Wong said that the “progressive trajectory” towards a fuller reopening of the economy relies as much on Singaporeans taking responsibility for their actions.

“What's critical and what's very important for all of us to understand is that this progressive trajectory towards continued opening is contingent on all of us doing our part, it's not to be taken for granted and it's not an automatic progression,” he added.

Wong also said that Phase Three will be, in a way, “the end of a process”, and it will have to be sustained until a vaccine is available.

“Of course, it doesn't mean that Phase Three is static. Even within Phase Three, we might be able to consider the liberalisation (of measures) and a lot of this depends on, for example, the extent of testing and that we can get access to the current methods of testing.” — TODAY

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