SINGAPORE - It is mandatory, with immediate effect, for everyone to wear a mask when they step out as part of stricter measures to curb the further spread of the coronavirus.
Those who do not risk a $300 fine for first-time offenders.
There are exemptions for those engaging in strenuous exercise and children below the age of two, as medical experts recommend against them wearing masks, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said at a media conference on Tuesday (April 14).
People may remove their masks when engaging in exercise such as running or jogging, but they must put them on afterwards, he said.
Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the outbreak, said the Government is also seeking to reduce the number of services considered essential.
About 20 per cent of Singapore's workforce, including foreign workers, continue to commute to work as they are in essential services, he said.
"We will now proceed to look at the list of companies classified as essential services and tighten this list further", with the objective of further minimising movement and keeping people at home, said Mr Wong.
Details will be announced when finalised, he said, adding: "We will trim it down as much as we can."
Responding to a question from The Straits Times on whether older workers in essential services should continue to work amid the advisory for the elderly to stay home as they are more vulnerable, Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said that such individuals should be relieved from having to go to work, if possible.
“The alternative is that if the person really has to come to work, then, within the work environment, can the person be redeployed to a different role where the interactions with co-workers is kept to a minimum?”
If interaction with others is unavoidable and senior workers cannot be provided adequate protection, arrangements should be made for them to clear leave, so they can continue to receive payment while at home, said Mrs Teo.
On the mandatory use of masks, Mr Wong stressed that the new requirement does not mean going out is encouraged.
He said: "You should not go out as much as possible... but on the rare occasion that you do need to go out for purchase of your groceries or essentials, it's only at that time that you wear a mask."
He noted that many have been complying with the stricter measures in the week since Singapore's circuit breaker began, and hot spots such as parks and wet markets are now under control.
Noting that some have complained of cabin fever, he said it is early days, and there are "at least another three weeks to go".
"We have to double down our efforts and stay home," he said.
Mr Wong said the requirement to wear masks in public may extend even beyond the circuit breaker period, which ends on May 4.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that there will be a need to review whether to extend the circuit breaker after the month is up, and if measures will need to be tweaked.
“It is also important to bear in mind that even at the end of the circuit breaker, with or without extension, it’s not likely that we’ll open the entire system altogether and then (it becomes) free for all, (where) everyone does what they like,” said Mr Gan.
Relaxing of the safe distancing rules will be a gradual process informed by risk assessment, he said.
“So I think we should not have the idea that at the end of the circuit breaker, everything will revert to normal and you don’t have to wear a mask anymore, (and) we don’t have to (practise) safe distancing anymore,” he said.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement on Tuesday that the rules on mask-wearing apply to all forms of transport as well as walking to markets.
All essential workers must also don masks, whether they are frontline staff or performing back office functions, the ministry said.
It noted that medical experts have advised that some groups may have difficulties wearing a mask, including children with special needs and young children.
“We will exercise flexibility in enforcement for these groups,” the ministry said.
For workplaces which remain open, cross-deployment of staff to different branches will no longer be allowed, to reduce the risk of transmission.
Teams working in different locations should also not interact, though essential service providers who need to move between different locations in the course of duty may continue to do so as long as safe distancing measures are complied with.
Businesses face a fine of $1,000 for first-time offences, and essential service providers may be required to suspend operations should staff become infected.
More than 6,200 warnings and 500 fines have been issued to individuals who flouted safe distancing measures since April 7, when the circuit breaker period began.
Singaporeans have made significant efforts to stay home over the last week, and public transport ridership and traffic volume has dropped by more than 70 per cent, MOH said.
However, it added that are still cases spreading within the community, including at workplaces.
“We must make this circuit breaker period count, and tighten where there are areas of risk,” the ministry said.