SINGAPORE - Singapore is tightening rules on social interactions in a bid to tackle the growing number of Covid-19 cases in the community.
This means stricter limits on the number of people who can be present in malls, attractions and large standalone stores, with residents urged to have no more than two social gatherings a day.
From 11.59pm on Saturday (May 1), the country will also bar all long-term pass holders and short-term visitors who have been in Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka in the last two weeks.
The number of new community cases has increased to 35 cases in the past week, from 10 cases in the week before, with the first Covid-19 hospital cluster growing to 13 cases.
On Friday (April 30), Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic, reiterated that Singapore's economic reopening would not be a smooth process.
"From the very start, we have emphasised that this will not be a one-way street, there will be stops and starts and there would be bumps along the way," he said at a press conference.
"We are now encountering one such bump in our journey of reopening. But let us also take confidence in the fact that today, we have better capabilities and tools to control the infection."
The minister acknowledged that these restrictions would create inconveniences but urged Singaporeans to cooperate and scale back their social activities.
Doing so is the only way Singapore can slow the virus' spread, he said, warning that more stringent measures may have to be considered should the situation worsen.
Under new rules that take effect from May 1 to May 14, occupancy limits for malls and large standalone stores will be reduced to one person per 10 sq m of gross floor area, down from one person per 8 sq m.
Odd and even entry date restrictions will be reinstated on Sundays at Lucky Plaza and Peninsula Plaza, while outdoor barbecue pits and campsites will be closed. These include pits in parks, HDB estates, condominiums and country clubs.
All attractions that received prior approval to operate at 65 per cent of their operating capacity will have to reduce this to 50 per cent from May 7 to 14.
Mr Wong added that the restriction on eight unique visitors a day per household remains.
Employers should allow staff to work from home as far as possible, he said, noting that the public sector - in particular agencies in the Novena area near Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) - will take the lead in this regard.
The hospital has placed four wards under lockdown after it detected a cluster of 13 cases, involving both staff and patients.
This means patients will leave the wards only for essential tests, with "full precautions" taken when they are moved. No new patients will be admitted into the affected wards, which will be managed by a dedicated group of staff, said TTSH chief executive Eugene Soh.
A total of 61 patients - including those infected - have been transferred to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases. Other patients in the affected wards have tested negative for Covid-19 so far.
The TTSH cluster consists of eight patients and five staff members - two doctors, a nurse, a healthcare assistant and a cleaner.
Four staff members and one patient had been fully vaccinated against the virus, while another patient had received one dose.
"We always knew that vaccinations are not 100 per cent," Mr Wong said, warning that Singaporeans should not jump to the conclusion that there is therefore no need for vaccination.
"They protect (you)... from the risk of severe disease, and they do help to reduce transmission. It's not 100 per cent, but there is an impact. And the more of us who are vaccinated, the bigger the impact would be in reducing overall transmission of the virus in our community."