Return to phase 2: Stricter rules on social gatherings to curb virus

Measures kick in from May 8, but minister urges all to scale back activities from now

Singapore will impose stricter rules on social gatherings and require more people to work from home starting Saturday, in what Education Minister Lawrence Wong yesterday described as a return to phase two of the country's reopening.

These tighter measures mean people will be allowed to gather in only groups of up to five, down from eight currently. In addition, they will be able to receive only five distinct guests at home each day.

And no more than 50 per cent of employees who are able to work from home should be in the office at any one time, down from 75 per cent at present.

Employers should also continue to stagger the start times of returning staff, and implement flexible working hours. Social gatherings at work should be avoided.

Large events - such as worship services, weddings, funerals and live performances - will see more restrictions in place, including pre-event testing and reduced sizes. Higher-risk settings such as indoor gyms and fitness studios will be closed, as people are often unmasked and in close proximity for extended periods in a small enclosed space.

The measures, aimed at stopping the spread of Covid-19 in the wider community, will kick in on May 8 and be in place until May 30.

Addressing reporters at a press conference yesterday, Mr Wong, who co-chairs the task force tackling the pandemic, said the measures harked back to phase two of Singapore's gradual reopening after the circuit breaker.

"We certainly hope not to have to invoke another circuit breaker," he said. "But we have proposed quite a stringent and very tight set of measures, so that we can respond robustly and pre-emptively to the latest outbreak of clusters and do our best to snuff them out early, and reduce the likelihood of having to impose more drastic measures down the road."

He acknowledged that the move will cause "considerable inconvenience" given several upcoming celebrations - Mother's Day, Hari Raya Puasa and Vesak Day - but urged Singaporeans to understand the need for tighter measures.

Although Singapore has tried its best to ring-fence the clusters of recent community cases, it must still assume that there are hidden cases in the community, he said.

In addition, the country is dealing with new variants that are more infectious and likely to cause larger clusters.

If Singaporeans cooperate with the new rules, the country stands a good chance of bringing Covid-19 case numbers down and getting the situation under control, Mr Wong added.

Stricter border measures will also be put in place for travellers from most areas. Those arriving in Singapore from 11.59pm on Friday will have to serve a 21-day stay-home notice (SHN) at dedicated facilities, while those who have not completed their 14-day SHN by that time will have to serve an additional seven days.

In addition, Singapore will now look at the past 21 days of an individual's travel history, rather than the current 14 days, in applying border measures. This move also takes effect from 11.59pm on Friday, and does not apply to bilaterally negotiated travel lanes such as the reciprocal green lane or air travel bubble arrangements.

Although the stricter measures kick in only on Saturday to give businesses time to adjust, Mr Wong urged everyone to start doing their part with immediate effect. "Starting tonight, try to scale back your activities as much as possible," he said. "Scale back your social interactions and stay home to the extent you can."

He also urged those who are medically eligible to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"We have been able to keep the infection under control before," he added. "We can certainly do it again, working together, and get back on track with our reopening plans."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 05, 2021, with the headline 'Return to phase 2: Stricter rules on social gatherings to curb virus'. Subscribe