Coronavirus pandemic: Parliament

Ban on social gatherings of any size in homes or public areas

People gathering in Jalan Besar at around 12.30pm yesterday, the first day the circuit-breaker measures took effect. Under the new law, social gatherings with friends and relatives who do not live together are banned, though individuals can still vis
People gathering in Jalan Besar at around 12.30pm yesterday, the first day the circuit-breaker measures took effect. Under the new law, social gatherings with friends and relatives who do not live together are banned, though individuals can still visit family members for help with their daily needs. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH
People gathering in Jalan Besar at around 12.30pm yesterday, the first day the circuit-breaker measures took effect. Under the new law, social gatherings with friends and relatives who do not live together are banned, though individuals can still vis
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

Law gives minister power to prohibit events or impose conditions on how they are held

Social gatherings of any size, in homes or public spaces, are not allowed under a new law on the coronavirus pandemic that was rushed through Parliament yesterday.

The ban includes having private parties or gatherings with families or friends not living together, at home or in public spaces like parks and Housing Board void decks, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

The Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act gives the Health Minister the power to prohibit events and gatherings, or impose conditions on how they are conducted.

Said Mr Gan: "This enables us to better regulate events and gatherings, including those that take place on private properties."

Last night, the Ministry of Health clarified that it will disallow social gatherings, such as private parties and social get-togethers with friends and relatives.

"Individuals can still visit family members for assistance with their daily needs, such as caring for elderly parents or for informal childcare arrangements," it added.

The authorities had previously advised against holding and participating in social gatherings with more than 10 people.

Last Friday, tighter measures were introduced. The authorities said social contact should be confined to immediate family members living in the same household and there should be no social gatherings.

The restrictions started yesterday and will last for four weeks till May 4.

Mr Gan, who co-chairs the multi-ministry Covid-19 task force, told the House that the Bill provides the legal basis to enforce enhanced safe distancing measures and these are temporary measures specific to the outbreak that Singapore is facing.

Under the Bill, the Health Minister has the power to close premises, such as workplaces, schools, recreational facilities and places of worship, to minimise interactions and reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

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It allows the minister to set requirements for premises in key economic sectors or essential services that can continue operating, like letting food establishments open only for takeaway or delivery orders.

The minister can also restrict the movement and interactions of individuals at their place of residence or other places, as well as their use of common areas like void decks, and shared facilities in HDB estates and private condominiums.

Mr Gan noted that while most Singaporeans are responsible and will comply with safe distancing measures, a few will blatantly disregard rules. For instance, they may loiter and mingle in groups in public areas or refuse to practise safe distancing at food outlets and supermarkets.

"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."

  • Law grants power for land requisition

  • A new law passed by Parliament yesterday gives the Government the powers to requisition land, property or services to ramp up healthcare capacity and public health capabilities.

    The Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act provides the option of putting into effect the Requisition of Resources Act that was passed in 1985, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong when introducing the proposed legislation earlier in the day for debate.

    He said that if the number of Covid-19 cases in Singapore continues to rise, it may become necessary to requisition buildings that can be converted into accommodation and care facilities.

    Such a move is for housing individuals who are suspected or confirmed to be infected so that they can be isolated while being cared for.

    Mr Gan said: "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 these resource owners. We will need to move fast."

    He added that the Government would exercise these powers judiciously, and work closely with affected stakeholders.

    Lim Min Zhang

The Act empowers the minister or any authorised public officer to appoint enforcement officers to take action against individuals, business owners or entities which flout the rules. While a strong signal needs to be sent to those who flout the measures egregiously, enforcement officers will look at whether there are reasonable explanations for non-compliance, Mr Gan said.

Penalties are aligned with those under the Infectious Diseases Act. First-time offenders can be fined up to $10,000, jailed for up to six months or given both punishments. For second or subsequent offences, the penalty is a fine of up to $20,000 or jail of up to 12 months, or both.

Mr Gan stressed that under the law, the Health Minister may issue control orders only when satisfied that the Covid-19 spread constitutes a serious threat to public health, and that their provisions are necessary or expedient to prevent or contain it.

Other safeguards include the way the minister must publish the control order so that those affected are aware of it, in addition to publishing it in the Gazette.

Mr Gan noted that the latest circuit-breaker measures offer an important opportunity to slow the Covid-19 infection significantly.

"The key message is simply this: '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 (his or her) part for the circuit breaker to be effective," he stressed.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 08, 2020, with the headline 'Ban on social gatherings of any size in homes or public areas'. Print Edition | Subscribe