That the Covid-19 situation here has taken a more concerning turn is clear from the stringency of yesterday's string of announcements, including that people will be allowed to gather only in groups of five, down from eight now. The restrictions also apply to households, which will be able to receive only five distinct visitors daily. More employees will be required to work from home. Higher-risk settings such as gyms will be shut, size limits on events will be tightened, and congregational services, weddings, funerals, sporting events and live performances will be affected.
These revised rules on gatherings, which will start from Saturday to May 30, follow measures last week to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. As the number of community cases rises and the Tan Tock Seng Hospital cluster grows, the Health Ministry has asked all hospitals to defer non-urgent operations and admissions for now so as to conserve resources across the healthcare sector. Non-urgent specialist outpatient clinic appointments, too, will be postponed. But no hospital will deny medical care to patients who need it. However, the deferment of non-urgent operations and admissions signals the seriousness with which the authorities are taking the evolving pandemic situation globally and Singapore's vulnerability, particularly to new and more virulent strains. Global developments remain extremely worrying, with several countries experiencing a resurgence of cases and the emergence of new variants that are more infectious and which have been found here as well.
A further tightening of border measures and stay-home requirements can help manage the risk of importation from travellers and onward local transmission. Undetected community transmissions could escalate into another major outbreak if not contained well and quickly. The earlier implementation of the TraceTogether-only SafeEntry scheme, which now starts on May 17, will strengthen digital contact tracing and increase the speed with which the close contacts of those infected can be isolated. It is in this sombre light that upcoming celebrations need to be seen.
Hari Raya Puasa and Vesak Day fall in this month. The flare-up in the Covid-19 situation requires Singapore residents to observe such festivals - and Mother's Day this weekend - with a careful eye on the evolution of the disease. The measures announced yesterday collectively walk Singapore back to phase two of its reopening - but without amounting to a circuit breaker and the attendant economic costs that came with last year's experience. The necessary and preventive steps being taken to tighten up across the board and reduce interactions will ensure that, with cooperation from all, chains of transmission and further outbreaks can be stemmed and Singapore does not have to endure the pain of another shutdown.