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07 Apr 2020

7th Apr 2020

           Mr Speaker, the Prime Minister announced in his address to the nation last Friday, a set of strict measures to slow the transmission of COVID-19 in Singapore. On the same day, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce shared the details of these measures, which include moving towards full home-based learning for our schools, closing most physical workplace and other premises, prohibiting social gatherings and urging Singaporeans to stay home and not to go out unnecessarily.


Need for Circuit Breaker

2.       This enhanced set of safe distancing measures serves as a critical circuit breaker to curb the trend of increasing local transmission of COVID-19. The trend is particularly concerning in the past week.The daily number of new cases crossed the 100 mark two days ago. There was also an increasing number of unlinked cases in the past week, which suggests that there are quite a number of undetected cases within our community which have led to these unlinked cases. We are also starting to see emergence of new clusters daily.

3.       The Government has taken a series of steps progressively over the last three months to curb the spread of COVID-19 in Singapore, based on our risk assessment of the evolving situation both locally and globally, as well as our anticipation of the likely trends and developments ahead of us. It is now timely to introduce heightened measures, given the worrying trends, to curb a further rise in cases and pre-empt widespread community transmission. In other words, we need to apply brakes, hard brakes, to slow the transmission.This is what we mean by a circuit breaker.Enhanced safe distancing is necessary to significantly reduce movement and interactions in both public and private places.This circuit breaker is not a holiday. It is an important opportunity for us to work together to slow the infection significantly.The key message is simply: “Stay home.Go out only for essential activities.Avoid close contact with people.If you can’t avoid close contact, wear a mask to protect others and to protect yourself.”Everyone must play our part for the circuit breaker to be effective.

Control Orders

4.       To effect our plans, we have included provisions in the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill, to provide the legal basis to enforce the enhanced safe distancing measures. These are temporary measures specific to the COVID-19 situation we are facing currently.

5.        Let me elaborate on the key provisions.

Closure of Premises

6.        The Bill provides the Minister for Health the power to close premises, such as workplaces, schools, recreational facilities and places of worship to minimise interactions and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission; while allowing premises that provide essential services or are in selected economic sectors which are critical for our local and global supply chains, to remain open so that services vital to Singapore’s security and to Singaporeans’ daily living can continue to be provided.

7.         Examples of essential services include healthcare, transport, cleaning services, and food-related services; and supply chains such as F&B establishments, supermarkets and food manufacturing. The list of essential services is published online (https://covid.gobusiness.gov.sg/essentialservices). The Public Service will also be fully operational and government services will be available, but with the majority of the public service workforce telecommuting. Services that are not essential and will therefore have to close their physical premises include fashion retail outlets, beauty and wellness services, and public and private recreational facilities such as gyms and swimming pools, including those in private condominiums.

8.        For premises that remain open, the Bill also provides powers to set requirements for the premises and the manner of carrying out the business while it is in operation. For example, F&B providers like hawker centres and restaurants can remain open but only for take-away or delivery. Dining-in is not allowed, so as to reduce people interactions. Businesses and owners of premises that remain open will also need to implement strict safe distancing measures, such as minimising staff on-site, introducing staggered work hours or avoiding social interactions during meal times, as well as ensuring safe distancing for queues, if any.

Restrictions on movement

9.      Second, the Bill allows the Minister to put in place measures to restrict the movement of people in specified places, as well as to limit the usage of specific premises and facilities.

10.      The Bill allows the Minister to restrict individuals’ movements and interactions at their place of residence or any specified place, as well as their use of common areas such as void decks and shared facilities in HDB estates and private condominiums. Members of the public are urged to stay home. There are good and necessary reasons for going out, and these will be allowed by the control order, but we would strongly urge everyone not to go out, except to purchase daily necessities, essential services, or for urgent medical needs. And when they are out, they must adhere to the safe distancing measures. While the majority of Singaporeans are responsible and will try to comply with the safe distancing measures, there will inevitably be a few individuals who do not treat the situation seriously and blatantly disregard the rules. For example, they may refuse to adhere to safe distancing measures put in place by F&B venues such as coffee shops or supermarkets, or they may loiter and inter-mingle in groups in public areas instead of staying at home. In doing so, they place themselves and others around them at risk of infection. We will not hesitate to take action against such persons and send a strong signal to prevent such behaviour from negating our collective efforts during this crucial circuit breaker to slow down the infection.

Restricting gatherings

11.       Third, the Bill also allows the Minister to prohibit events and gatherings or impose conditions on how they are conducted and on the participation in such activities. This enables us to better regulate events and gatherings, including those that take place on private properties. For example, we had earlier required certain events and mass gatherings to be deferred or cancelled. We will now also disallow social gatherings of any size in both private and public spaces. This would include having private parties or gatherings with families or friends not living together, at home or in public spaces such as in parks and HDB void decks.

Temporary Requisition of Resources

12.      Fourth, the Bill provides the option to bring the Requisition of Resources Act (RORA) into effect, for the purposes of containing COVID-19 and caring for the patients and those at risk. This allows for the requisition of land, property or services needed to ramp up our healthcare capacity and public health capabilities. For instance, if the number of COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Singapore, it may become necessary to requisition buildings suitable for conversion into accommodations and care facilities in order to isolate individuals who are suspected or confirmed to be infected, to reduce the risk of further spread, while caring for them.

13,       I am very grateful that today, many hotel and building operators have voluntarily stepped forward in this difficult period to work with the Government to support the national COVID-19 efforts. However, in a crisis like this, time is often of the essence and we cannot rely solely on commercial negotiation or the goodwill of the resource owners.We will need to move fast.Should the RORA be invoked, the Government will exercise these provisions judiciously and work closely with affected parties .

Enforcement and Penalties

14.      The Bill empowers the Minister or any public officer authorised by the Minister to appoint enforcement officers to take action against individuals, business owners or entities which flout the orders and requirements. The enforcement officers will include police officers, public officers and health officers appointed under the Infectious Diseases Act.

15.        For our enhanced safe distancing measures to work, we need members of the public to take the measures seriously. Therefore, failure to adhere to the measures without a reasonable justification will constitute an offence. We need to send a strong signal to those who are egregious in flouting the measures, as they are putting not only themselves but others at risk. Let me reassure members that the enforcement officers will look at the facts of each case carefully, including whether there are reasonable explanations for any non-compliance, before taking action.


16.         The penalties are aligned with those under the Infectious Diseases Act.For first time offenders, the penalty is a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to 6 months, or both. For second or subsequent offences, the penalty is a fine of up to $20,000, or imprisonment of up to 12 months, or both.

Safeguards

17.         Apart from powers, there are also provisions in the Bill for safeguards.

18.         First, let me emphasise that the Minister may make such orders only where the Minister is satisfied that the incidence and transmission of COVID-19 constitute a serious threat to public health, and that the provisions of a control order are necessary or expedient to prevent or contain the spread.

19.        Second, a control order and any amendment must be presented to Parliament as soon as possible after its publication in the Gazette, and Parliament may pass a resolution annulling the control order or any part of it or any amendment of it.

20.      Third, the Minister must publish the control order such that it is brought to the notice of those affected by it, in addition to publishing it in the Gazette.

Closing

21.        Mr Speaker, the provisions in the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill to enforce the heightened safe distancing measures take reference from the existing Infectious Diseases Act and Regulations, and further calibrate the powers to suit our specific needs during this present COVID-19 situation. The provisions adapt existing powers on safe-distancing. In addition, they allow us to close certain types of workplace premises, while allowing those that are essential to everyday living and supply chains to operate. This carefully balanced approach allows us to minimise social interactions to curb further transmission. To consolidate and simplify the rules for all, we will be revoking the current workplace regulations and general preventative regulations once the relevant provisions have been folded into the control order made under the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act.

22.        The circuit breaker will be imposed until 4 May.We will review the situation then, to decide whether there is a need to extend the “circuit breaker” period, and if so, whether some of the measures need to be adjusted.

23.         To sum up, Part 7 of the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill is needed to ensure tight adherence to the enhanced safe distancing measures in reducing the transmission of COVID-19 for the overall wellbeing of the nation. Everyone must play our part, act responsibly, and observe the measures set out to protect our population. I ask for the support of all Members of the house, for this Bill, so that together, we can win the fight against COVID-19. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




Category: Speeches