At least 350,000 still commuting to work in Singapore after reduction in essential services

A commuter at Farrer Road MRT station on April 22, 2020.
A commuter at Farrer Road MRT station on April 22, 2020.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - At least 350,000 workers in Singapore are still commuting to work daily, even after the number of services considered essential was reduced on Wednesday (April 22) to further control the local spread of the coronavirus.

This is according to calculations based on latest official figures.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong had said on Tuesday that the cut in the number of essential services would reduce the proportion of the workforce commuting to work from 20 per cent to 15 per cent.

He also said the decision to have fewer essential services was prompted by the fact that many of the local infections which occurred after the April 7 start of the circuit breaker period, involved those working in essential services or who had family members that were.

With the local workforce in December 2019 standing at 2.36 million, 15 per cent of this works out to about 353,000 workers.

This number rises to around 567,000 if foreigners are included, as the total workforce in Dec 2019 is 3.78 million.

More recent statistics are not available and Manpower Ministry figures show the country's workforce grew from 3.71 million in 2018 to 3.78 million last year.

Singapore has seen a downward trend in the daily number of new local cases since the circuit breaker kicked in on April 7.

Of the 1,037 new cases on Thursday (April 23), 21 were Singaporeans or permanent residents.

But even as the number of community cases declines, Singaporeans cannot afford to be complacent, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had said on Tuesday, when he announced the extension of the circuit breaker period for another four weeks till June 1. The initial circuit breaker period was scheduled to end on May 4.

PM Lee, in his national address updating the Covid-19 situation, noted that the number of unlinked cases has not come down, which suggests there is a "larger, hidden reservoir of cases in the community... (that) we have not detected".


The move to cut down the number of workers in essential services has meant that even those who remain on the list have begun to work from home, where possible.

Accountant Eunice Lim, 57, who works in the healthcare sector, started working from home on Wednesday, with different groups of hospital employees alternating between the home and the office in the weeks ahead.

"But there will be some days when I will have to go back to the office, as doctors and nurses will still need administrators like us around for urgent matters," she added.

"We also help out with things such as temperature screenings and travel declarations."

Meanwhile, fishmonger Eddy Chua, 52, is continuing to operate his stall at Ghim Moh Market as best he can while taking necessary precautions.

"So far, it's quite okay. Everybody is doing their part to stay safe, like keeping 1m apart. For us fishmongers, since we use a lot of water in our work, it's our habit to observe personal hygiene by washing our hands a lot," he said.

"All of us basically stay at our stalls and avoid walking around, and now I also make sure to take a shower immediately after I get home."