Flexibility allowed in workplace as 'very hard' for employees to wear mask all day: Lawrence Wong

There are two conditions where workers will be allowed to remove their masks in the workplace. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Employees at workstations will be allowed to remove masks because it will be difficult to be masked up constantly while back at the workplace, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Friday (April 22).

But even with this exception to the rule, which requires masks to be worn indoors, employees should still be mindful about safe distancing, added Mr Wong, who is co-chairman of the ministerial task force on Covid-19.

"It would be very hard to be back at work throughout the day and then wearing a mask and working. And therefore, this flexibility is extended for such an occasion, but we would continue to encourage everyone to exercise responsibility," said the minister during a press conference by the task force on Friday.

"And if you take off your mask when you're working, ensure that you're maintaining a safe distance from your colleagues and, obviously, do not gather together in a crowded setting."

The Ministry of Health (MOH) announced a major easing of Singapore's remaining Covid-19 safety measures from next Tuesday, including the lifting of limits to workplace capacities. This is up from the current 75 per cent cap for those who can work from home.

There are two conditions where workers will be allowed to remove their masks in the workplace, said Mr Wong.

The first is when they are not physically interacting with one another, and the second is when they are not in any customer-facing areas, where interaction is likely to happen.

"So if you're just back to the office in your workstation working, then we will allow you to take off your mask," said Mr Wong.

During the press conference, the task force was asked why the number of new Covid-19 cases in Singapore has not increased much after restrictions were eased from March 29.

This included the expansion of maximum group sizes to 10 people, mask wearing being made optional outdoors and the increase in capacity limits for events.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung sketched out three reasons for this.

First, Singapore has managed to achieve a high vaccination rate, which is one of the highest in the world, said Mr Ong. The Ministry of Health said on Friday that Singapore's vaccination coverage is at 96 per cent of its eligible population.

Second, the country has raised its collective resilience, given how there are "quite a number" of people who have been infected with Covid-19.

And third, Singapore has cooperated as a society by abiding by the rules, safety precautions and all the other measures that were put in place.

"So all these help. But it's a combination of factors. It's very hard to isolate which are the main factors," said Mr Ong.

Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, who is also a co-chairman of the task force, reiterated the importance of the cooperation and support of Singaporeans, as well as their trust in the system.

But the country must not become complacent, given how new variants can emerge from time to time, and that there are ongoing waves in different parts of the world.

"We must continue to remain vigilant even as we continue to ease up our measures. And in the weeks to come, we can expect that the number of cases may increase because of a greater easing this time round and, therefore, we also have to remain vigilant and continue to monitor the situation and be prepared to adjust our measures from time to time," said Mr Gan.

Singapore could not have got to where it is without the contributions of each and every person, including its healthcare and front-line officers, said Mr Wong, as he thanked everyone for playing their part.

"We can now have a well-deserved breather after two very difficult years of fighting the virus. But let's always remember, we are getting closer to the finish line but the race is not over," he said.

"The pandemic is certainly not over. A new variant will emerge sooner or later… No one can predict what this next variant will be. And if need be, we may very well have to tighten our restrictions."

Read next - S'pore eases most Covid-19 rules from April 26: What you need to know

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