SINGAPORE — From next Tuesday (April 7), most workplaces except for essential services and key economic sectors will be shut down temporarily as part of the Government’s stricter measures to “minimise physical contact” and keep the Covid-19 pandemic in check, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Friday.
Food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services will remain open.
And from April 8, schools and institutes of higher learning will move to full home-based learning.
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.
These measures will be in place for at least one month.
“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,” Mr Lee said while giving an update on the health crisis. His speech was broadcast live on television, radio and his Facebook page.
“We will therefore impose significantly stricter measures. This is like a circuit-breaker. It will help reduce the risk of a big outbreak occurring.”
The Government will also tighten its restrictions on movements and gatherings of people.
“It boils down to three things: First, stay at home, as much as possible. Second, avoid socialising with others beyond your own household,” he said.
“Gatherings should be confined to your household. Avoid visiting even your extended families who are not staying with you, especially if they are elderly or vulnerable.”
Third, people should go out “only to do essential things”. “For work, if you 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,” he said.
The spirit of these measures is to get everyone to minimise physical contact, he added.
“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.”
On the closures of workplaces, Mr Lee said that the Government “should not disrupt economic sectors that are strategic or that form part of a global supply chain”.
People working in these industries can continue to go to work, with safe-distancing measures in place.
“But most other work premises must close. If the person can work from home, he should do so.”
He acknowledged that there will be workers who cannot work from home, including foreign workers on construction sites and in shipyards. “These workers live in dormitories, and we will make arrangements to look after them.”
Mr Lee reiterated that the Government has to “ensure that most of our workforce stays at home and limit their physical interaction to as few people as possible”.
On the move to full home-based learning, Mr Lee noted that the schools started with one day of it earlier this week.
“This has gone smoothly, with teething issues being resolved. The Ministry of Education will work with the schools to implement full home-based learning starting next Wednesday,” he said.
Worrying Recent Trend
Mr Lee noted that he last spoke to the nation on Covid-19 three weeks ago.
“Since then, the number of new cases daily has begun to rise. We used to see fewer than 10 new cases a day. But in the last two weeks, despite our best efforts, we have routinely had more than 50 new cases daily.”
At first, many of the new cases were imported from overseas, mostly returning Singaporeans. Then last week, the authorities began to see more locally transmitted cases.
“Furthermore, despite our good contact tracing, for nearly half of these cases, we do not know where or from whom the person caught the virus,” Mr Lee said.
“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.”
In the last few days, the authorities have also discovered several clusters at foreign worker dormitories and one at a nursing home.
“These are very worrying, because large numbers of people live together in dormitories and nursing homes,” he said, stressing again that a single case can “quickly lead to a large cluster”.
“Furthermore, nursing home patients are mostly old and frail, and very vulnerable to the virus.”
As the situation developed over the past weeks, the Government has tightened its safe-distancing measures progressively, and Mr Lee said that Singaporeans have “responded well, calmly and responsibly, and made adjustments in their daily lives”.
“By working together, we have kept the outbreak under control. But looking at the trend, I am worried that unless we take further steps, things will gradually get worse, or another big cluster may push things over the edge.”
In addressing the nation, he wanted to reassure Singaporeans “that things will be alright”.
“Essential services will continue running so that all of us can cope with this new situation, as we hunker down to fight this virus. We have enough food supplies to last us through this period and beyond. You can still shop at the supermarket or wet market. And you need not rush to stock up for weeks at a time,” he added.
“You can still buy food from your favourite hawker centres or coffee shop. Though you will have to take out and eat at home with your own family — rather than hang out and eat outside with your friends.” — TODAY