SINGAPORE - Larger groups of five people will be allowed to dine in at eateries from next Monday (July 12) as Singapore reopens further following an improvement in its Covid-19 situation and as more residents get vaccinated.
Two-thirds of the population will have received at least the first dose of the vaccine by the end of Wednesday (July 7), and the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 expects half of the population to be fully vaccinated by the end of the month.
Restrictions could be eased further when that milestone is reached and if the situation remains stable – for instance, the cap for social gatherings could be increased to eight, said the task force.
Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the task force, said wedding receptions for up to 250 people will also be allowed with pre-event testing from July 12, while gyms and fitness studios can conduct indoor sports and exercise classes for up to 50 people.
Working from home will remain the default arrangement, though social and recreational gatherings at the workplace will be allowed for up to five people, he said at a virtual press conference.
All eligible individuals in Singapore have now been offered vaccination. At the current rate, the task force expects half of the population to have two doses of vaccines around the week of July 26, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, who also co-chairs the task force.
Currently, about four in 10 of Singapore's population have been fully vaccinated, he added.
"Once we reach 50 per cent, it'll be timely for us to have a more definitive road map to transit towards living with endemic Covid-19," he said.
Mr Wong outlined several measures that the task force is considering.
The group size for higher-risk activities like dining in at eateries could be increased to eight as well if all in the group are fully vaccinated. Otherwise, the group size for dining in will remain at five people.
Separately, the crowd size could be doubled to 500 people for events such as cinema screenings, congregational worship, Mice (meetings, incentives, conventions and exhibitions) events, live performances, spectator sports and wedding solemnisations - if they are all fully vaccinated.
Mr Wong said the task force is mindful that there could be people who are not vaccinated as they may face adverse effects from the vaccine, or because they are not eligible for vaccinations, for instance children aged 12 and below.
Some guidelines will be worked out to allow people in this group to be able to dine in groups of eight, for instance if they take a pre-event test, he added.
Children could be allowed to qualify, but up to a cap. This is because from a public health perspective, the risk of severe illness for children is much lower, he said.
Fully vaccinated individuals refer to those who have received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty or Moderna vaccine, with an additional two weeks after the second dose for optimal protection. Those who have recovered from Covid-19 and developed immunity against the virus would also qualify, but not those who have received the Sinovac jab.
In the next phase of reopening, more workers may also be allowed to return to the workplace, based on the percentage of total employees who are fully vaccinated.
Mr Wong said these plans are part of a broader road map being worked out by the multi-ministry task force that will cover both measures within Singapore and travel-related guidelines.
“We hope all of this will once again encourage everyone to take up the vaccination, or to bring forward your appointments and get vaccinated earlier,” he added.
The minister said there is a good public health basis for differentiated measures to apply to vaccinated people.
“If you have been vaccinated, you get good protection against the infection and against severe illness and therefore, you don’t need to have such strict measures applied to a vaccinated person or to groups of vaccinated persons.”
Guidelines still have to be worked out for those who remain unvaccinated or are ineligible for any of the mRNA vaccines, including children, he added.
Last month, the multi-ministry task force announced that Singapore's vaccination programme will be ramped up, allowing it to set a new target of having two-thirds of its population fully vaccinated by National Day, on Aug 9.
Following that, the country is expected to gradually transition to the new normal, where Covid-19 will be managed like other endemic diseases.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong urged those who have not been vaccinated to sign up as soon as they can.
He said: “Our vaccination programme is on track...Thanks to everyone’s cooperation, we are a step closer to moving on from COVID-19. Let’s keep working together!"