SINGAPORE - There can be more easing of pandemic control measures, including the limit of five people for social gatherings, if everyone continues to work together and keep their guard up, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said in Parliament on Monday (Oct 5).
Allowing larger groups to meet would allow bigger families or groups of friends to meet and have meals together, he said in response to questions from several MPs on the loosening of Covid-19 rules here.
Singapore has gradually eased some of its pandemic control measures over the past few months, leading some to question when the cap of five people for social activities - especially when eating out together - would be lifted.
Mr Gan said on Monday: "We are particularly concerned about dining, as we need to remove our masks so as to eat and drink, but we tend to also talk at the same time. The risk is considerably higher than activities which we can keep our masks on and maintain a safe distance."
He pointed out that Singapore has already made big steps towards restoring economic and social activities - in a safe manner.
For instance, from Sept 28, more employees who have been working from home were allowed to return to their workplaces.
But in order to keep workplaces safe and minimise crowding, such employees are to continue to work from home for at least half their working time, with no more than 50 per cent of such employees at the workplace at any point in time.
Work-related events, including conferences, seminars, and meetings, have also been allowed to resume with a 50-person limit to reduce the risk of transmission.
The authorities have also taken steps to support the resumption of a few very targeted and specific areas, said Mr Gan.
These include the increase in group size limits for key life events such as weddings and religious activities to 100 people, but in multiple zones or time slots of at most 50 people each to limit potential risk exposure.
The Government had also earlier allowed the resumption of physical exercise classes in common community spaces, and an increase in capacity for cinemas and leisure attractions such as the Singapore Zoo and Bird Park.
Museums and libraries have also reopened, and small-scale live performances are being trialled to prepare Singapore to eventually be able to resume such activities safely, added Mr Gan.
He added that the authorities here are being careful in reopening society, as they have learnt from the experiences of other countries.
"When restrictions are lifted prematurely, or too hastily, a resurgence of cases may occur, resulting in partial reimposition of restrictions. On the other hand, it is not sustainable to maintain tight restrictions for a prolonged period, which will severely impact our economy and our lives," he said.
So the Government has taken a carefully calibrated approach in moving towards phase three, and will share more details in the coming weeks.
Minister for Education Lawrence Wong also said earlier on Monday that his ministry is studying how to resume more activities, and will share more details when ready.
But Mr Gan cautioned: "The low number of community cases currently is not accidental but has come about due to our collective hard work and sacrifices. Even as we move towards phase three, the new normal will be different from what we were used to in the pre-Covid days."
He added: "As overseas travel restrictions are progressively eased and more activities resume, it has become even more critical that each of us plays our part to exercise social responsibility and adhere to the safe management measures, in order to keep our family and friends safe."
Read highlights of DPM Heng Swee Keat's ministerial statement on Singapore's strategies to emerge stronger from the Covid-19 crisis.