Singapore — In Parliament on Wednesday (Nov 4), Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that Phase 3 of Singapore’s reopening, which the country could move into by the end of the year if Covid-19 remains under control here, could last for a year or more.

It will last until the virus is under control in the rest of the world or until a viable vaccine is available.

Mr Gan said this in answer to a question from Ms Cheng Li Hui (PAP — Tampines GRC), who specifically asked:

  • What factors are taken into account when deciding on the maximum number of people allowed for gatherings, weddings and other events;
  • What will be the safeguards and measures in place to ensure compliance when more activities resume on a larger scale; and
  • What plans are in place should there be a spike of Covid-19 cases in Phase 3 and whether that includes reversion to Phase 2.

Mr Gan answered that Singapore needs to prepare “for a Phase 3 that could last for a prolonged period — potentially a year or more”.

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Rather than a return to pre-Covid days, he emphasised adjusting to a new normal, saying that we “need to put in place the measures and equip ourselves with the tools that will enable us to stay safe, as we allow greater flexibility to live, work and even celebrate major life events”.

The Health Minister said that the objective for Phase 3 “is to reach a steady state of permitted economic and social activities until an effective vaccine or treatment is widely available”, adding, “if and where conditions worsen, we will take targeted measures too. We must not let our guard down and become lax in adherence to safe management measures, as doing so could result in a resurgence of Covid-19 cases, putting all our sacrifices thus far to waste”.

The Health Minister underlined the “probability of transmission” that “tends to be higher in social settings”, giving as examples the Safra Jurong dinner, and the Mei Hwan Drive condominium family get-together during Chinese New Year.

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“It is natural to lower our guard when we are among family and friends,” he added, especially as masks are removed during meals.

Therefore, he explained, a “cautious approach” has been taken with regards to increasing the number of people who can meet together.

“We are considering an increase in the group size limit from the current 5 persons to 8 persons in Phase 3 for dining and social gatherings. Taking banquet tables as an example, many used to sit around 10 people before Covid-19. So 8 persons is about the maximum that these tables can take while allowing some additional distancing compared to the past.”

Mr Gan acknowledged as well that social gatherings should not be disallowed for long periods of time, but that size limits should be observed for the sake of minimising transmissions.

However, for important events such as weddings, “where safe management measures can be effectively imposed to mitigate risks, and where interactions between different groups can be managed”, an increase in the capacity limit may be allowed, provided that additional safety measures are observed, such as disallowing inter-table mingling. Guests must use SafeEntry and TraceTogether, he added.

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The ministry is also looking into pre-event testing, which could allow such gatherings “to scale up safely, by reducing the probability of a Covid-19 case being present at the event, thereby reducing the risk of transmission”. But since no testing is completely risk-free, safety measures would still need to be observed. /TISG

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