Singapore takes steps toward a new normal amid Covid-19 pandemic

While certain restrictions are lifted, life will not return to what it was before the spread of the coronavirus. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - With more activities and events resuming, borders gradually reopening and most foreign workers set to resume work this month, Singapore is cautiously moving towards a new normal amid the pandemic.

To support these changes, travellers who contract Covid-19 while on permitted essential travel will be able to tap financial support from today, while workers will be tested regularly to minimise the chances of a flare-up.

The multi-ministry task force on the coronavirus set out these steps on Thursday (Aug 6), even as it stressed the need for caution and vigilance to avoid a new wave of cases.

Almost all foreign workers will be tested for Covid-19 by Friday, and the majority will be allowed to go back to work by the end of this month, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong during a virtual press conference.

This means that many construction activities and projects should be able to resume soon, he added.

And under changes to the charging policy for Covid-19 treatment for travellers, those who head abroad under permitted schemes and develop symptoms of the coronavirus infection within 14 days of their return to Singapore can get more help with their hospitalisation bills.

Permitted schemes include bilateral arrangements with Malaysia and China, and any that may be implemented in future.

Since March 27, Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term pass holders who travel overseas had to pay their own inpatient medical bills in full if they developed symptoms within 14 days of their return.

They were also unable to claim from MediShield Life or Integrated Shield Plans in public and private hospitals.

But as the Government gradually reopens the country's borders, it will allow permitted Singaporean and PR travellers to tap government subsidies, MediShield Life and Integrated Shield Plans for treatment.

Likewise, long-term pass holders who travel under permitted arrangements will be able to tap financing arrangements like foreign worker insurance for their treatment.

The travellers will bear any remaining co-payment.

But while certain restrictions are lifted, life will not return to what it was before the worldwide spread of the coronavirus, the task force warned.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the task force, said Singapore should not let its guard down even though the total number of new Covid-19 cases in Singapore is likely to taper down by end-August as dormitories are cleared.

"We have seen the experiences everywhere in the world... where so long as there is a lapse in the community or people do not observe the safe management practices carefully, these low levels of infection can suddenly flare up into large clusters anywhere, anytime," he cautioned.

Working from home should remain the default for employees, and where possible, events should remain fully virtual, or take on a hybrid physical-virtual form, added Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who is also a task force co-chair.

This includes large gatherings and festivities surrounding national and community occasions, said Mr Gan, pointing to the upcoming National Day celebrations, which has been scaled down with around 150 parade spectators and 300 participants.

Mr Gan said: "With a right mindset and attitude, we can adapt and make the best of the situation, even if we need to continue with safe distancing measures."

The Health Ministry said prayers for the lunar seventh month and post-funeral religious rites will be allowed to take place in places of worship and some external venues such as HDB areas, if they are conducted by religious organisations with a good track record of implementing safe management measures, or by workers endorsed by these organisations.

Mr Gan urged those who are unwell to see a doctor instead of trying to self-medicate or sleeping it off, so that Covid-19 infections can be detected at an early stage.

"This will prevent one case from becoming many cases, and to form a cluster and to eventually become many clusters," he said.

Such actions will help keep community cases low, he said, adding: "That will allow us to continue to see how we can ease the restrictions, to allow more activities to resume, more interaction to happen while continuing to exercise safe distancing."

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