SINGAPORE - More than 3,300 fines were issued last year to people for breaching Covid-19 rules - an improvement from 2020 when more than 8,600 fines were handed out.
The fines, which came up to more than $990,000, were for non-adherence to safe distancing and safe management measures, and non-wearing of masks.
Of these, about 1,000 fines were for mask-wearing offences, while most of the remaining penalties were for gathering in groups larger than the permitted size, the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) said on Thursday (Feb 24).
In 2020, more than 8,600 fines - totalling more than $2.5 million - were issued from April to December, with more than 1,700 fines imposed on those who did not wear masks.
First-time offenders who breach safe distancing measures are fined $300, and second-time wrongdoers $1,000. Offenders may also face prosecution in court for egregious cases and get higher fines if convicted.
Last year, more than 770 fines were also issued to food and beverage outlets for breaching Covid-19 measures, more than double the over 340 outlets fined from June 2020 to March last year.
The bulk of the fines last year were for allowing patrons to consume alcohol after 10.30pm and failing to minimise interaction between staff and diners, maintain a safe distance of 1m between groups of customers and ensure that groups of diners did not exceed the maximum permitted size.
The Ministry of Manpower (MOM) handed out more than 140 fines totalling over $141,000 last year for breaches of safe management measures at the workplace. This is around half the figure in 2020, when more than 280 firms were hauled up.
Common infringements include not ensuring that workers who are able to work from home do so and not implementing adequate safe distancing measures.
A spokesman for MSE said government agencies will continue to take firm enforcement action. "Observing safe management measures remains a key strategy in the fight against Covid-19. We urge everyone to continue doing their part amid the rising number of Omicron variant infections."
As Omicron cases surge in Singapore, with infections topping 26,000 on Tuesday (Feb 22), the Government has postponed plans to ease Covid-19 measures from Friday (Feb 25), such as allowing groups of five to visit homes at any one time and social gatherings of up to five people at workplaces.
Dr Leong Hoe Nam, an infectious diseases specialist at Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, said the key is to spread the cases out over a longer period to avoid putting a strain on the healthcare system.
"If the healthcare system is burdened, death cases will rise, not just from Covid-19, but other non-Covid-19 cases, for example due to non-availability of beds, delayed surgery and delayed chemotherapy.
"That should not happen, but doctors are still humans and not robots. We will make mistakes and cannot cope with too many sick patients."
Dr Leong has said that, currently, getting Covid-19 is "a rite of passage for everyone living on earth".
"You have to go through it. It is unavoidable in practically all circumstances. With more clinics on board, the system should be able to cope as long as the existing precautions are kept up."
Professor Dale Fisher, a senior infectious diseases consultant at the National University Hospital, said a paced approach will help to reduce "collateral damage" to non-Covid-19 patients. "With usual services like elective surgery being cancelled (due to the surge in Covid-19 cases in hospitals), people waiting for their hip surgery, for instance, will be in pain."
He added: "We're letting the virus go through the community in a controlled way, as we move towards endemic disease. Postponing the easing of measures seems like a move to wait for the current Omicron surge to be over... Once 50 to 60 per cent of the population get infected, and are immune for at least six months, numbers will start going down."
Singaporeans support the need to stay vigilant amid the Omicron wave.
Secretary Adeline Ng, 56, said when she goes to work at 8am, she observes people checking in using TraceTogether, even though there is no one around to ensure they do so. "It's become a habit to adhere to the SMMs (safe management measures)."
She added: "My circle of friends have not much issue following the rules because they are used to it already, like wearing masks, and five-people groups are still okay, we don't need a bigger group size cap. It's during festive occasions when people flout the rules."
Ms Mindy Low, a secondary school teacher in her 20s, said: "I think people have got more lax with safe distancing over time due to Covid-19 fatigue, and it doesn't help that public transport, the malls and workplaces are more packed now.
"I think we should try to safe distance and avoid crowds during this time, with the huge number of cases."