What in many ways has been Singapore's worst year since independence is set to conclude with the welcome news that the country will proceed to phase three of its reopening on Dec 28. The coronavirus pandemic, which began here with the first reported case in January, turned personal, economic and social life upside down swiftly and surely. In March and April, Covid-19 peaked at over 1,000 cases a day here. The two-month circuit breaker period in April and May reversed that trend by imposing stringent regulations on the conduct of everyday social life in the larger, critical interests of safety. However, it was clear even after that period that Singapore could not revert to the status quo ante. Hence the journey to a new normal began, with the prospect of gradual and calibrated phases of reopening.
The arrival of phase three signals the success of the management of both earlier phases. Credit must go not only to the active measures taken by the authorities, who were always on the alert and prepared to make necessary adjustments, but also to Singaporeans who took the coronaviral threat seriously and adjusted their routines and expectations accordingly. Under the next phase, the permitted group size for social gatherings will go up from five to eight; capacity limits in public places such as malls, attractions and places of worship will also be increased. This means local attractions can apply to increase operating capacity from 50 per cent to 65 per cent. Capacity limits for malls and large standalone stores will change from 10 sq m per person to 8 sq m per person. Restrictions on religious groups, weddings, funerals and live performances will be relaxed as well.
Equally important is that more travellers will be allowed to enter and transit through here. The risks are undeniable. But enhanced testing and tracing capabilities offer a way of managing them. The truth is that the longer borders are closed, the greater the possibility that Singapore could lose its status as an international hub - to the detriment of the economy which depends on the country's position as a global economic node. The impending arrival of phase three - and a vaccine that is at hand - is light at the end of the tunnel. But it is by no means the end of the fight.
Covid-19 remains a global epidemic. Countries that succeeded in containing the outbreak have seen a dangerous resurgence. That required new clampdowns, and negated the gains made earlier. The number of cases here may be on the decline and appear stable. But this can be sustained only if people continue to behave responsibly and exercise care and consideration for others. A sense of relief is understandable. But caution must remain the keyword because all it takes is one case to start new infections. Singaporeans have sacrificed much over the course of the year. Those efforts must not have been made in vain.