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05 Oct 2020

5th Oct 2020

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament
Ms Jessica Tan Soon Neo
MP for East Coast GRC

Question No. 106

To ask the Minister for Health with the low number of community cases for COVID-19, what can be expected on further easing of measures for Singapore and when can this be done.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament

Mr Chua Kheng Wee Louis
MP for Sengkang GRC

Question No. 183

To ask the Minister for Health whether the Government has completed its review of work-from-home arrangements and where does Singapore stand in the Government's risk assessment in determining when to move into Phase 3 of Singapore's reopening.

Answer

1.           When Singapore exited the Circuit Breaker period in June 2020, the Multi-Ministry Task Force (MTF) set out a 3-Phase Plan to resume economic and social activities.  Since then, we have progressed from Phase One to Phase Two.  

2.           We have also learned very important lessons from other countries in easing precautionary measures for COVID-19.  For example, when restrictions are lifted prematurely, or too hastily, a resurgence of cases may reoccur, resulting in the need to partially reimpose of restrictions. On the other hand, it is also not sustainable to maintain tight restrictions for a prolonged period of time which will severely impact not only our economy but also our lives.  Therefore, we have taken a carefully calibrated approach in opening up our society and economy as we work towards Phase Three.  This is complemented by close monitoring, extensive testing and comprehensive contact tracing to keep the situation under control, as we balance the protection of lives and livelihoods. 

3.           We have made significant moves towards restoring economic and social activities.  From 28 September 2020, we allowed more employees who have been working from home to return to their workplaces, which Mr Louis Chua had asked about.  However, we need to continue to keep our workplaces safe and minimise crowding.  Therefore, such employees should still continue to work from home for at least half their working time and there should be no more than 50% of such employees at the workplace at any point in time.  Work-related events, including conferences, seminars, and meetings, have also been allowed to resume, albeit within a 50-person cap for these activities to reduce the risk of transmission.  Other safe management measures should continue to be observed at work places. 

4.           We have also taken steps to support the resumption of a few very targeted and specific areas.  We recognise the importance of key life events such as weddings, and the importance of religious activities and worship to our spiritual needs.  Therefore, we have allowed greater numbers of up to 100 persons to attend each of these events, in multiple zones or time slots of at most 50 persons each to limit potential risk exposure.  Earlier, we had also allowed the resumption of physical exercise classes in common community spaces, and allowed an increase in capacity for cinemas and leisure attractions such as the Zoo and Bird Park. Museums and libraries have also re-opened.  We are piloting live performances to prepare us to eventually be able to resume such activities safely.  

5.           Ms Jessica Tan has asked what can be expected on further easing of measures going forward, and when this can be done, and I understand Ms Foo Mee Har would like to know whether the social and dining group size limit of five persons will be reviewed. All these are very important questions that we ask ourselves constantly.  Sir, if all of us continue to work together and keep our guard up even as more activities resume, we will be able to keep the pandemic under control, and progress towards further opening up our economy and society steadily.  For instance, we could consider allowing for general group sizes larger than five, so that larger families or groups of friends could meet and have meals together.  We are particularly concerned about dining as we need to remove our masks so as to eat and drink, but we tend to also talk at the same time.  The risk is considerably higher than activities which we can keep our masks on and maintain a safe distance.

6.           We have begun pilots of events and activities with a larger number of attendees, such as trade exhibitions, conferences and religious worship to assess whether we can maintain effective precautions and safe distancing measures.  If these pilots are successful, we will be able to use the lessons learnt to allow more large-scale events to proceed.  We will also continue to facilitate further opening up for overseas travel in a safe and calibrated manner, which Minister Ong Ye Kung will talk about later in greater detail. 

7.           The low number of community cases currently is not accidental but has come about due to our collective hard work and sacrifices.  Even as we move towards Phase Three, the new normal will be different from what we were used to in the pre-COVID days.  The MTF is working on a road map towards Phase 3, and we will share more details when we are ready in the coming weeks.

8.           As overseas travel restrictions are progressively eased and more activities resume, it has become even more critical that each of us plays our part to exercise social responsibility and adhere to the safe management measures, in order to keep our family and friends safe as we progress towards Phase 3.