From Tuesday, all households will be able to host a maximum of eight guests a day, as part of stepped-up measures to combat rising Covid-19 infections ahead of Chinese New Year.
Individuals are encouraged to limit themselves to visiting at most two other households daily, and stick to visiting only family members during the festive period, Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force handling the Covid-19 crisis, said yesterday.
Three coronavirus clusters have emerged since Singapore entered phase three of its reopening on Dec 28, when households were permitted to receive up to eight guests at any one time.
But increased social interaction during the year-end period has contributed to the rising number of community cases, said Mr Wong.
"With more human activities, there is an increased chance of transmission of any infectious disease," he added. "That is why we are very concerned. Because compared to, say, a month ago, our vulnerability has increased, and the situation can escalate very rapidly, especially with the likelihood of more interactions and activities taking place over the Chinese New Year period."
People will still be allowed to gather outside in groups of up to eight. However, the Government will be stepping up spot checks at restaurants, malls and other crowded venues. Tough action will be taken against individuals and operators caught flouting rules.
The authorities will also conduct a surveillance testing exercise for stallholders, shop owners, restaurant workers and food delivery workers operating in and around Chinatown. The two-day exercise will start on Feb 8. The authorities will reach out to these groups with further details.
"While there has been no evidence that these community groups are at higher risk of infection, the Ministry of Health will be offering tests to them as they are expected to interact more frequently with other members of the public during this time," the ministry said in a statement yesterday. It added that the Government will fully bear the costs of these tests. "We strongly encourage all individuals in the identified community groups to come forward for testing."
When asked why the new rules were being put in place relatively far ahead of Chinese New Year, which falls on Feb 12, Mr Wong said it was a pre-emptive move.
"Based on the recent cases that we have seen, based on the concerns highlighted earlier that we are seeing increased signs of complacency in the community about the transmission risk, we think it is timely to make a pre-emptive move now and not wait till Chinese New Year," he said.
He pointed out that Singapore saw a spike in Covid-19 cases after Chinese New Year last year, with many clusters linked to festive gatherings. These included the large cluster linked to a dinner at Safra Jurong, as well as a family get-together in Mei Hwan Drive.
"This was last year. We don't want a repeat of that happening," Mr Wong said.
The minister was also asked if people could pay multiple visits to the same home in a day, or if two different families could visit the same home at the same time.
"I think the rules are very clear," Mr Wong replied. "We never set any stipulations on timing, or length of visits, but it is eight distinct individuals within a day to a particular household."
But beyond that, he appealed to Singaporeans to abide by the spirit of the new rules, which aim to reduce social interactions and limit the spread of the coronavirus.
For example, visiting someone multiple times a day could increase their risk of being exposed to the virus, Mr Wong said.
"For every rule that we set, please do not try and optimise your maximum gain around the rule, as though this is something that you could... gain some additional benefit out of," the minister added.
"Because in the end... by having more exposure, more interactions... you are putting yourself and your loved ones at risk."