Household members will be allowed to dine in groups of 5 if weekly infection growth rate falls: Lawrence Wong

The multi-ministry task force handling Covid-19 is monitoring three areas in considering when to ease existing restrictions.
The multi-ministry task force handling Covid-19 is monitoring three areas in considering when to ease existing restrictions.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID

SINGAPORE - People from the same household will be allowed to dine out in groups of up to five if two conditions are met, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Saturday (Oct 23).

First, the weekly Covid-19 infection growth rate must fall below one, meaning that the number of new cases is beginning to decline. Next, the hospital situation – especially in intensive care units (ICUs) – must remain stable.

If these conditions are met, more team sports and school activities will also be allowed to resume.

At a press conference on Saturday, Mr Wong set out three indicators the multi-ministerial task force looks at before deciding to ease Covid-19 restrictions. 

These are: the daily rate of increase in infection numbers, the proportion of infected people who fall severely ill, and the occupancy rates at hospitals, especially intensive care unit (ICU) beds.

The Ministry of Health's daily reports will be updated with these figures, so the public is able to track them, Mr Wong said.

But the one key number that reflects all these is the weekly infection growth rate, which is the ratio of cases in the past week over the week before.

This number used to be 1.5, suggesting that cases were doubling every two weeks or so, Mr Wong said.

It is currently just above one, meaning cases are still going up but at a slower rate.

"But because cases are still increasing, it is still resulting in pressures on our healthcare system," he added.

If this number goes below one, and the hospital and intensive care unit situation remains stable, the Government will make "calibrated easing" in three areas, he said.

It will allow team sports to take place, resume more activities in schools and institutes of higher learning and allow household members to dine out together in groups of up to five.

"These are calibrated moves where we assess the risks to be acceptable," said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the task force.

For instance, masks are typically worn during school activities, while sports teams can be required to take antigen rapid tests before the start of the activity.

As for dining as a household, the risks of people not abiding by the rules can be mitigated with sufficient enforcement, he said.

On Wednesday (Oct 20), the task force had announced that tightened restrictions - which include capping group sizes for social gatherings and dining in at two - will be extended for a month till Nov 21.

The measures will be reviewed at the two-week mark and adjusted based on the community situation then, it said.

Mr Wong noted that some people may ask why measures are not eased further, for instance by allowing group sizes to increase across the board to five or even eight people.

This is because relaxing measures across the board will cause cases to rise sharply, impacting the healthcare system, he said.

He acknowledged frustrations about the ongoing restrictions, but added his hope that people will understand Singapore’s healthcare considerations as it manages the pace of reopening.

"I think we have to ask ourselves if this were to happen, what will we do when our ICU facilities get fully occupied?" he said.

"What happens if there is a surge of cases, and we do not have enough ICU beds to take care of people who truly need ICU care?"