Coronavirus: Why Singapore has to apply another set of 'brakes'

Taped spots at a foodcourt indicating where customers should stand to distance themselves from one another while queueing.
The lunchtime crowd at Amoy Street Food Centre yesterday, where alternate seats were crossed out to encourage people to observe social distancing. The stricter safe distancing measures announced on Tuesday include the cancellation or deferment of all mass gatherings for at least the next one month. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Social distancing markers outside Tangs department store in Orchard Road. Malls can stay open but have to abide by stricter precautions. Diners observing social distancing at a fast-food restaurant at Junction 8 mall yesterday. The lunchtime crowd at
Taped spots at a foodcourt indicating where customers should stand to distance themselves from one another while queueing. PHOTO: REUTERS
Social distancing markers outside Tangs department store in Orchard Road. Malls can stay open but have to abide by stricter precautions. Diners observing social distancing at a fast-food restaurant at Junction 8 mall yesterday. The lunchtime crowd at
Social distancing markers outside Tangs department store in Orchard Road. Malls can stay open but have to abide by stricter precautions. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG
Social distancing markers outside Tangs department store in Orchard Road. Malls can stay open but have to abide by stricter precautions. Diners observing social distancing at a fast-food restaurant at Junction 8 mall yesterday. The lunchtime crowd at
Diners observing social distancing at a fast-food restaurant at Junction 8 mall yesterday.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Stricter measures introduced as some were still gathering in large groups: Lawrence Wong

Singapore had introduced its latest set of measures to increase social distancing because there were still accounts of people going to nightspots and gathering together in large groups, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

Such behaviour is the reason the Government has had to apply another set of "brakes", which will kick in at 11.59pm today, to limit gatherings outside of work and school to fewer than 10 people, he told the House yesterday.

"We have to move faster - much faster," he said. "We still hear anecdotes of people going to discos, nightclubs and gathering in large groups. Our big worry is that these can become super-spreader events, spawning new clusters and potential runaway outbreaks."

The stricter safe distancing measures include the cancellation or deferment of all mass gatherings for at least the next one month, as that will add up to two virus incubation cycles.

All entertainment venues, such as bars and cinemas, and tuition centres will be closed until April 30. Similarly, all religious services will be suspended till the end of next month.

While malls, museums and attractions can stay open, they have to abide by such restrictions as keeping groups to fewer than 10 people and practising safe distancing.

"We recognise the inconvenience and disruption that these measures will bring to people's lives and to businesses, but we have no easy options," said Mr Wong. "That is the reality that all countries are facing in tackling the virus - the more we try to stop or slow down the virus, the steeper will be the damage on our economies.

"We have to do what is necessary from the public health point of view first - to save lives, slow down the virus, and thereafter do our best to manage the economic consequences," he added.

Mr Wong also reiterated his call for Singaporeans to defer all travel, noting that the Government has raised the travel advisory to the highest level. Those who still choose to go abroad have to pay full costs should they need treatment for Covid-19 when they return and, likewise, must foot the bill for their 14-day self-isolation at a hotel.

Underpinning these social distancing efforts is the need for all Singaporeans to take individual and social responsibility, as "the fight against the virus cannot be done by front-line agencies, front-line workers or government agencies alone", said Mr Wong.

He called on Singaporeans to uphold personal hygiene, see a doctor and rest if unwell, and to minimise non-essential activities and physical contact with others.

The Government has also not ruled out more drastic measures should the number of infected cases continues to rise, despite the current safeguards, he said. These would include the need to suspend schools and close workplaces.

"We will keep the measures under constant review," he said.

"If the situation worsens, we will apply extra brakes; if the situation improves, we may be able to ease off a little bit."

He added: "Not back to baseline, perhaps to a less stringent set of measures, because the pandemic will probably not be over for quite some time."

As he started to thank healthcare workers and the "many more unsung heroes" in industries such as cleaning, transport and essential services, Mr Wong began to tear up.

After a two-minute break - and thumps of encouragement from MPs in the House - a wet-eyed Mr Wong went on.

"Words are not sufficient to express our appreciation for so many Singaporeans going all out to fight the virus," he said. "And I just want to say a big thank you to everyone who is doing their part."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2020, with the headline 'Why Singapore has to apply another set of 'brakes''. Print Edition | Subscribe