Singapore Phase 3 reopening may start by year-end, includes increase in gathering cap to 8, says government

Safe management measures such as wearing masks and safe distancing will still be mandatory during Singapore's Phase 3 easing. — Reuters pic
Safe management measures such as wearing masks and safe distancing will still be mandatory during Singapore's Phase 3 easing. — Reuters pic

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SINGAPORE, Oct 21 — Phase Three of Singapore’s reopening could occur by year-end, with changes to include an increase of the maximum size of group gatherings from 5 to 8, greater capacity limits at public venues and the piloting of activities at high-risk settings such as nightclubs and karaoke lounges, the government said yesterday.

However, should residents let their guard down, causing new clusters to emerge, the timeline might have to be pushed back, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the governmental task force tackling Covid-19, in an online press briefing on Tuesday.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) spelled out the changes to be expected during Phase Three — increase in group sizes:

The maximum group size for gatherings outside the home could be increased from the present five persons to eight persons

The maximum number of visitors allowed to homes would similarly increase from five to eight

Increasing capacity limits:

In Phase Three, capacity limits at public spaces and event venues could be increased, and multiple zones of 50 persons could be allowed

  • At present, public venues such as museums and attractions are already open with capacity limits. Events such as congregational worship services and wedding receptions can now also be held in two zones of 50 persons
  • “All of these adjustments would have to be done in a controlled manner, setting by setting, over the course of Phase Three, and additional measures would apply for specific settings,” said MOH. For example, for higher-risk activities such as wedding receptions where people are gathered for a meal without their masks on, the expansion in the number of attendees would require additional safety measures.
  • They would include having all the guests go through a pre-event Covid-19 test
  • Government agencies may also request video and photographic footage of the events, to facilitate checks and investigations over any breaches of safe management rules

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who also co-chairs the governmental task force, said that the testing is a “crucial prerequisite for early identification and a key enabler in the fight against Covid-19,” adding that pre-event testing to prevent transmission will be piloted at large-scale events over the next two-and-a-half months.

He reiterated that for every step the authorities take to allow more activities, there have to be countermeasures in place.

For instance, there will still be no intermingling between groups of the larger proposed sizes, and safe distancing, mandatory wearing of masks and observance of personal hygiene must continue to be observed.

“This means that as we allow more activities to resume, adherence to the safe management and safe distancing measures becomes even more critical,” he said.

Asked how the authorities arrived at the number eight for the proposed group size limit, Gan said that the current limit of five persons is “quite stressful for quite a lot of people, especially families with a large number of members.”

“If we continue to be quite vigilant in our safe distancing measures, and we are quite mindful and quite serious in protecting ourselves, I think we can afford to increase the number as we progress towards a Phase Three,” he said.

He added that the task force had thought about whether it should have increased the limit to 10 instead of eight.

But he said that even within public places such as restaurants or cinemas there is still a need for safe distancing, and that groups of 10 may be too large to achieve that objective.

“Even a table of 10, you probably won't be able to put in all 10 seats, if you need to maintain (a) certain distance between the seats,” he said.

“And we also do not want to have a sudden increase with a large number and as a result end up with big clusters of transmission.”

Wong added that should residents work together to keep community transmission rates low, there is a chance that Singapore could enter Phase Three before the end of the year.

However, should the community let their guard down and new clusters emerge, the timeline will be pushed back, he said.

“(Phase Three) may have to be pushed back for a long time or even indefinitely, depending on the situation,” Wong added.

Requirements to be met before moving to Phase 3

Responding to a question from the media about what specific requirements will be considered before the move into Phase Three, Mr Wong said that one factor is to have more people on the TraceTogether app.

The authorities want the take-up rate to be 70 per cent of the population or more, and will be distributing the TraceTogether tokens at various locations such as community centres to achieve this.

The current take-up rate for TraceTogether app or token is about 2.5 million people, which is about 45 per cent of the population.

“We also want to deploy more TraceTogether-only SafeEntry checks... where SafeEntry is done either through either the TraceTogether app or token,” said Wong.

The authorities had confirmed yesterday that starting November 16, it would be compulsory for cinema patrons to use TraceTogether for entry.

Other than cinemas, the authorities will ramp up the deployment of these TraceTogether-only SafeEntry points at restuarants, shopping malls and other popular venues, said Wong.

On the timeline for the easing of restrictions, Gan said that the Phase Three measures will likely not be implemented “all at one go.”

“We may adjust the group size first, we may permit large scale activities first. It depends on the various pilots and the situation.

“As we progress towards Phase Three, some of these measures will be implemented progressively, so don’t expect a big bang (where) all these measures will be implemented all at one go.”

He added that Singapore will also be opening up borders, which will increase its risk to infections.

Thus, safeguards will have to be put in place.

“Phase Three is not a declaration of victory, that we have now succeeded in overcoming Covid-19,” he said.

“Phase Three is a milestone, we are saying that we have now put in place reasonable safe distancing measures and safeguards to protect ourselves and we must continue to maintain these safeguards.” — TODAY

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