No plans to raise 8-person limit for social gatherings, says Singapore health minister

People having dinner at a restaurant in Pasir Ris Park, Singapore. — TODAY pic
People having dinner at a restaurant in Pasir Ris Park, Singapore. — TODAY pic

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SINGAPORE, March 25 — Even though the number Covid-19 cases in the community here has remained low for some time, and the authorities are easing some restrictions for events and workplaces, there are still no plans to relax the limit of eight people for private social gatherings.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that doing so will increase the spread of Covid-19 significantly.

He was responding to a question from the media at a briefing held by the Government’s Covid-19 task force yesterday.

Gan, who is also the co-chair of the task force, said that unlike the other safety rules for workplaces and events, the eight-person limit for social gatherings is a “broad-based” safety precaution, so any adjustment to this number will have a very broad-based impact where social interaction is concerned. The risk of disease spread is still there and this could go up significantly.

Still, Gan said that the Government reviews the restrictions regularly and adjustments could be made to the number when it is confident that doing so will not result in any significant risk in transmission.

Echoing his comments, Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who is the other co-chair of the task force, said that the Government will keep to its style of moving things in a “controlled, deliberate and steady manner” when assessing which measures can be relaxed.

There is still a risk of clusters forming if restrictions are eased too quickly.

Wong pointed out that this has been observed in other countries where a liberal lifting of restrictions resulted in the rapid spread of an infectious strain of the coronavirus within the community. Thereafter, more stringent measures had to be put back in place.

 “Rather than taking an approach where we are quite relaxed about the measures and just liberalise measures too quickly, we are looking at it in a controlled manner, reviewing every single move we make, watching the outcomes of these moves and making sure the situation remains stable.”

He added: “That has been the approach we have taken throughout the past year and that will continue to be the approach we take this year, relying heavily on data and evidence as we make each move.”

Stricter control for foreign workers

During the briefing, the task force was also asked why migrant workers are still subjected to more stringent measures compared to the rest of the community even though cases have fallen considerably among the population.

Wong said that the migrant worker dormitories “remain places where one single case can easily spread to many other workers” because of the high-risk nature of their living and work environments.

“In construction, for example, despite our best efforts with having different zones and avoiding intermingling of workers, it’s very hard to really make sure that there is that kind of segregation taking place all the time.”

That is why the task force is adopting a more cautious approach towards the restrictions for migrant workers.

Since the start of this year though, there has been a pilot scheme to relax the movement restriction for these workers, including allowing them to be among the community once a month, Wong said.

Nightclub and karaoke businesses 

As for when the planned pilot to reopen nightlife establishments such as nightclubs and karaokes will resume, Wong said that no decision has been made yet.

The pilot was put on hold indefinitely in January after there was a spate of locally transmitted cases. 

“As I said, we are taking a controlled process in resuming activities, looking at the overall situation where the infection is, making sure it’s under control and, at the same time, looking at the overall progress in our vaccination plans,” Wong said.

“We will continue to review that and when we are ready and have more information, we will be able to share that with the nightlife industry as well as the media.” — TODAY

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