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04 Jun 2020

4th Jun 2020

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament
Mr Murali Pillai
MP for Bukit Batok GRC
 
Question No. 3624
 
To ask the Minister for Health about the merits of lifting the circuit breaker measures from 1 June 2020 when the rate of infection amongst migrant workers remain in its hundreds as well as the steps to be taken to ensure that the infection is contained within their residences.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament
Mr Christopher de Souza
MP for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC
 
Question No. 3628
 
To ask the Minister for Health what lessons can be learnt from other jurisdictions on how to prevent, minimise or manage a second wave of COVID-19 infections as our economy opened gradually.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament
Mr Chong Kee Hiong 
MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC
 
Question No. 3658
 
To ask the Minister for Health in view of the low COVID-19 infection rates within our community presently, whether the Ministry will consider (i) allowing all workers and employees whose workplaces meet safe distancing criteria to return to their workstations (ii) re-opening all outdoor sports facilities such as stadiums and swimming pools and (iii) re-opening all retail malls and food and beverage outlets as long as they can meet safe distancing measures.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament
Mr Lim Biow Chuan  
MP for Mountbatten SMC
 
Question No. 3659
 
To ask the Minister for Health whether the Ministry can consider allowing food and beverage outlets to operate for business on 2 June 2020 on the condition that they implement safe distancing among the diners and limit the number of diners per table to a reasonable number.

Name and Constituency of Member of Parliament
Mr Chong Kee Hiong 
MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC 
 
Question No. 3660
 
To ask the Minister for Health (a) of the countries or cities that have recently started relaxing their lockdown or stay at home measures, which ones are Singapore monitoring closely and modelling ourselves after; and (b) what are the lessons that we are learning from them.

Oral Reply
 
1       Members will recall that we implemented the circuit breaker measures from 7 April, just 2 months ago. At that time, the number of Covid-19 cases was rising rapidly, with community cases averaging more than 30 a day, compared to just a handful in early March. This is coupled with an outbreak in the migrant worker dormitories in early April. The circuit breaker imposed strict safe distancing measures, keeping people at home and only allowing basic essential services to continue. The number of community cases then began to decline and we extended the circuit breaker to 1 June in order to slow the infection further.  
 
2       We understand the impact that the measures have had on people’s lives and livelihoods. The economy practically came to a standstill. Community activities and social interactions ceased. No one went out except for essentials and work. Stress at home went up. Anxiety of seniors from physical isolation grew. We introduced measures to help Singaporeans cope with the circuit breaker but it was nonetheless a challenging two months.

3       Overall, the circuit breaker was painful but necessary to slow the transmission in the community. Eventually, the daily number of community cases came down to low single digits towards the end of the circuit breaker. While the number of cases in the dormitories remained high as pointed out by Mr Murali Pillai, it was partly due to proactive screening as part of our plan to clear the dormitories and prepare the workers to return to work. The situation in the dormitories had come under control.  The time had come for us to begin our journey to resume activities, gradually and cautiously. Let me thank all Singaporeans for your patience and cooperation during the period of circuit breaker.   
 
4       However, we must be mindful that there are still infections in the dormitories, and there are still undetected cases in the community, as evidenced from the unlinked cases we discover from time to time. The global situation has also not fully stabilized. Some countries are seeing a second wave of infection, after reopening their economy and allowing social activities, as pointed out by Mr Christopher de Souza. Therefore, we must remain vigilant even as we exit the circuit breaker.  
 
5       Mr Chong Kee Hiong and Mr Christopher de Souza asked what we can learn from other countries. The Multi-Ministry Taskforce has been monitoring the global situation and learning from the experiences of other jurisdictions, including their strategies for opening the economy and the community.  

6       For example, New Zealand had moved from Alert Level 4, which is their highest alert level, to Level 3 on 28 April, and subsequently transitioned to Level 2 about two weeks later. In making these moves, the authorities took into account factors such as the number of daily cases to ensure the situation is under control, healthcare capacity to ensure the system can cope with potential rise in new cases once the restrictions are relaxed, and adequacy of safety measures to prevent transmission. 
 
7       While the situation differs for different jurisdictions, most have taken a cautious and risk-based approach in lifting restrictions,. Whilst workplaces have reopened, many authorities have retained measures to limit social interactions and restrict mixing of households in the early stages of opening, as these are known sources of transmission. Hong Kong for example, limited social gatherings to 8 persons, and this has just been extended by two more weeks because of a new cluster. The United Kingdom and Germany limited social gatherings to 2 persons. Singapore has decided to maintain tight restrictions on social gatherings and household visits in Phase One, except for visits to parents and grandparents. We will allow gatherings of up to 5 persons in Phase Two initially, and possibly relaxing this further if the situation remains under control.

8       Many countries have also continued with basic preventive measures to reduce the risk of transmission in public places and workplaces and we must do the same. These include safe distancing measures and wearing of masks. Taiwan has made mask wearing mandatory on public transport and we have done so too. New Zealand allows businesses to operate subject to implementation of measures like maintaining safe separation between patrons, keeping contact tracing registers, and regularly disinfecting shared surfaces. Likewise, we require workplace premises that are permitted to open to put in  safe management measures. 
 
9       Digital solutions have been used in many countries as well, such as Australia, China, Israel and South Korea to support the gradual resumption of activities by enabling faster contact tracing and identification of clusters. Singapore has similarly introduced TraceTogether and SafeEntry. 
 
10      The last and most important lesson we have learnt from other countries, is that we cannot be complacent, as there is always the risk of a second wave of the virus. We have seen a steady decline in community cases, to 4 cases per day in the past week.

11      But we should be mindful that this is likely the effect of the circuit breaker. We expect to see a rise in new community cases as the activity levels and person-to-person interactions increase after circuit breaker. The Multi-Ministry Task Force has therefore taken a cautious and graduated approach to ensure safe opening in Phase One.
 
12      We have decided to first resume economic activities that do not pose high risk of transmission, such as manufacturing and production operations, and work in office settings which have no or minimal interactions with customers. To keep workers safe, employers are required to put in place safe management measures such as enabling employees to telecommute where possible, avoiding face-to-face contact meetings, and ensuring regular disinfection of common touch points and equipment at work premises. At work premises, workers should also avoid social interactions with colleagues, including meal times and break times. One of the areas that has a high risk of transmission is at the pantry area where most workers, when taking a break, are likely to let their guard down and at the same time remove their masks in order to enjoy a cup of coffee. That area is a high risk of transmission and we like to remind everyone to exercise extra caution when you are in the pantry area enjoying your break times.

13      We have also worked with the dormitory operators to strengthen management practices, so that workers can live safely in the dormitories. These include tighter control of entry and exit, measures to limit inter-mixing of residents between blocks and levels, and staggered use of common facilities. Only those workers who have recovered or tested negative will be allowed to leave the dormitories. Even then, it would initially only be for the purpose of work, and with tight arrangements to transport them to and from work. We will also strengthen health surveillance by conducting regular testing of the residents and having them report their health conditions daily. Any residents that test positive, and their close contacts, will be isolated expeditiously. 
 
14      While the number of cases we detect among the migrant worker population may remain high for some time, some of them may be past infections and are not active cases.
 
15      In addition, schools, student care centres and pre-schools will also open progressively, with precautionary measures in place.

16      However, social gatherings are still not allowed, and everyone should only leave home for essential activities and should continue wearing a mask when doing so. 
 
17      The Multi-Ministry Task Force will closely monitor Phase One.  If the community transmission rates remain low and stable, and the dormitory situation continues to be under control, we can move to Phase Two. 
 
18      In Phase Two, a broader range of activities will resume, and we expect most of the economy to be able to re-open. In response to Mr Chong Kee Hiong and Mr Lim Biow Chuan’s questions, retail, food and beverage dine-in services, as well as personal, health and wellness and home-based services will resume in Phase Two, subject to safe management measures being in place. Some may start earlier, others may need a little bit more time to put in place the necessary safeguards.  
 
19      We will also allow small groups to meet up in Phase Two, including dining together, so long as they do not exceed 5 persons. We will also gradually re-open our borders for Singaporeans to conduct essential activities overseas. We will share more details later nearer the date.

20      However, to ensure that we do not undo the efforts of the circuit breaker period, we will continue to adopt a more cautious approach for higher-risk activities, such as those involving large numbers of people interacting with one another in enclosed spaces for prolonged periods of time. These include religious services, cultural venues such as arts performances, cinemas, museums and libraries. Nightclubs and bars, karaoke outlets and other public entertainment establishments have high risk factors. Overseas and local experience have indicated that these settings can seed large clusters of transmission. At least 255 cases were linked to a nightclub cluster in South Korea’s Itaewon entertainment district in early May. In Singapore, the Hero’s Bar cluster is another example. Organisers of these activities and business owners would need to convince relevant agencies that they have robust plans to ensure safety, before we let them open.
 
21      If community transmissions remain low and well contained, we will continue to ease measures and even increase the pace until we reach a new COVID-safe normal in Phase Three, which we expect to remain in until an effective vaccine or treatment is developed. 

22      We understand the anxiety that our people are facing, and are acutely aware of the economic and social impact of prolonged closure of various sectors. All of us want to get back to normal as soon as possible, as quickly as possible, and to be able to see our friends and family members whom we have not seen for some time. However, if we resume too many activities too quickly, there is a real risk of a resurgence of COVID-19 cases or clusters, which may require us to re-impose strict measures and slow down the pace of resumption.. 
 
23       As restrictions are eased and more activities resumed, it becomes even more critical that each of us exercises strong social responsibility to ensure that community transmission remains low. We need everyone to play their part: wear a mask when outside your home, maintain good personal hygiene and observe safe opening measures. Our combined efforts will help facilitate our journey of safe transition and together, we can keep Singapore COVID-safe.




Category: Parliamentary QA