SINGAPORE - For the first time, Members of Parliament were seated farther apart in the House on Wednesday (March 25) when Parliament sat, amid the worsening coronavirus outbreak in Singapore.
The new safe distancing arrangements meant that some MPs were not able to sit in the Chamber. They occupied seats in galleries on other levels instead, while members of the public and the media at the galleries were also seated at spaced intervals.
During breaks, MPs will also take their refreshments in separate groups to further reduce mingling, and use separate restrooms to maintain good personal hygiene, Speaker of Parliament Tan Chuan-Jin announced on Wednesday.
Addressing MPs at the start of the sitting, Mr Tan said the new steps are aligned to stricter safe distancing measures announced last week to prevent the further spread of Covid-19, as well as guidelines issued by the Public Service Division over the weekend to intensify the implementation of safe distancing measures across public agencies.
"Let me assure members that no matter where you are now seated, you can still make your speeches and present your impassioned ideas here in this Chamber," said Mr Tan, adding that microphones have been placed near them to capture and record their speeches.
Parliament has also been regularly reviewing and updating business continuity plans, Mr Tan said. Its secretariat employees have been split into separate teams, and distancing measures such as telecommuting, staggered working hours and split shifts have been implemented.
Since early February, precautions such as temperature screening and overseas travel history declarations have also been adopted, said the Speaker.
Parliament will continue to ensure that the new measures do not compromise the quality of services and operations that remain available to MPs and the public, he added.
As Singapore deals with Covid-19, Singaporeans will face varying degrees of inconveniences and disruptions to their daily lives and routines, and even to the economy, he said.
Still, these measures need to be taken seriously and fully complied with to prevent the further spread of Covid-19, he added.
"We have done it before for Sars and H1N1, and such collective social responsibility by Singapore and Singaporeans is how we will ultimately prevail over the spectre of Covid-19.
"Let us also do this as SG United - by looking out for the most vulnerable amongst us, and supporting and encouraging one another in keeping ourselves, our families and friends, as well as our co-workers in Singapore safe," the Speaker said.