SINGAPORE - Stricter safe distancing measures will be introduced to reduce the risk of further local transmission, the authorities announced, as Singapore reported another 40 Covid-19 cases on Friday (March 20).
Keeping a safe space around individuals is especially important for vulnerable segments of the population, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said at a press conference.
All events and gatherings with 250 or more participants are to be suspended until June 30, while the suspension of all social activities for seniors by government agencies will be extended for another two weeks until April 7.
Events with fewer than 250 people and operators of venues accessible to the public, such as restaurants and cinemas, are also required to implement measures to ensure separation of at least 1m between patrons.
The measures will apply across the board for all events, including religious and private gatherings.
Retailers and food and beverage outlets will also be required to keep patrons at least 1m apart. For instance, operators are encouraged to demarcate queues to ensure patrons keep their distance while dining outlets should ensure alternate seats are marked out.
Entertainment venues and attractions are similarly required to impose appropriate measures like installing floor markers at queuing areas and adopting chequerboard or alternate seating.
For employers, the authorities strongly advised them to allow employees to work from home, or implement staggered working hours where telecommuting is not possible.
Non-critical work events should be deferred and critical ones scaled down to no more than 250 participants at any one time.
"When combined with good personal hygiene, safe distancing measures can help to slow the spread of Covid-19," said Mr Gan, who is co-chair of a multi-ministry task force to fight the coronavirus.
He added: "Our healthcare professionals are working hard to take care of patients. We don't want to add to their load, and therefore, it is important to add these measures to ensure our healthcare workers have the capacity to look after our patients."
Singapore has witnessed a recent uptick in new cases daily that has been largely due to a sharp increase in imported cases, as Singaporeans studying and working abroad return home from other countries where the number of infections continue to rise.
Imported cases have nearly caught up with non-imported ones for Singapore's total of 385 cases.
Stressing that it cannot be business as usual, task force co-chair Lawrence Wong, the Minister for National Development, said that the aim was to have fewer people out and about, and a reduction in social gatherings and any activity that could be a potential social vector for the virus.
On how the safe distancing measures will be enforced, Mr Wong said this can be done in several ways.
For example, food and beverage outlets that are licensed will have to close some tables.
"So it is not an option, it is not advisory, it is mandatory," he said.
"We will start tomorrow and it will take some time to roll out fully but we will aim to do so as quickly as possible."
He added: "We do not want to see crowded venues, we do not want to see packed event halls. We should see more work from home, more takeaways.
"We will be enforcing the rules. There will be some inconvenience but we also need all Singaporeans to cooperate. And if we are all very disciplined about this, it will give us better control and enable us to control (the) spread of virus."
Mr Gan announced on Wednesday that non-Covid-19 patients could be transferred to private hospitals to free up capacity at public hospitals.
He also said there are plans to convert normal wards into isolation wards, and quarantine facilities into care centres for Covid-19 patients with less severe symptoms if the number of cases here continues to rise.