Singapore to ease Covid-19 rules in several steps: Lawrence Wong

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong was responding to a question on whether serving alcohol after 10.30pm and live music would be allowed in the next step of easing. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Singapore will ease its Covid-19 rules in several steps, after a streamlining of measures into five key areas takes place from next Tuesday (March 15).

Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said there will be different stages of easing for each of the five parameters: group sizes, mask wearing, workplace rules, safe distancing and capacity limits.

For example, the maximum size permitted for social gatherings will eventually go up from five to a larger number. "But it will not be the final ending point. We may go further beyond that," he said at a press conference held by the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 on Friday (March 11).

"And likewise, for masks, for capacity limits, for the back-to-office parameter, you can imagine going from 50 per cent to a higher number before you reach 100 per cent, for example. So there would be a few steps."

Mr Wong was responding to a question on whether serving alcohol after 10.30pm and live music would be allowed in the next step of easing.

It is too early to say exactly when rules on alcohol consumption after 10.30pm and other measures relating to nightlife will be eased, he said, adding that this is something the Government is studying very carefully.

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The minister also set out his thinking on why Singapore has chosen to distil its safe management measures to focus on five areas.

Group sizes directly affect the number of close contacts a person has, and are a key factor driving infections, he said. This is why the limit on the size of social gatherings remains at five people.

One change is that households will be allowed to host five visitors at any one time, compared to a maximum of five visitors a day now.

"This may be seen as an easing in some sense, but in fact, most households do not receive multiple sets of visitors outside of festive periods," noted Mr Wong.

"That's why... we felt that simplifying this particular rule will not add that much to transmission risk."

Mask-on rules remain as they have proven effective at protecting against infection, he added, while zoning requirements for events have been removed as Singapore relies on masks and vaccination to prevent the virus from spreading.

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A capacity limit of 50 per cent will still be imposed for larger settings and events where more than 1,000 people are present, as these pose greater infection risks.

The current workplace restrictions, which allow up to 50 per cent of those able to work from home back in the office, remain unchanged.

These changes mean that rules across various settings will be made more consistent, Mr Wong said. For instance, people are currently barred from eating with their colleagues in the office, but can do so if at a hawker centre.

The minister said the task force has given the simplification of Covid-19 restrictions much thought. "We believe that doing so will not result in additional transmission risks, because this is not meant to be an easing of rules - it's meant to be a streamlining exercise."

Singapore will, however, be relaxing its rules on team sports. From Tuesday, up to 30 fully vaccinated people - including players, coaches, umpires and so on - will be allowed to take part in sports at selected venues.

The authorities will expand the number of approved venues in the coming weeks.

The decision to ease rules on team sports was made because there is no clear evidence that the transient contact during sports drives infection numbers up, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung explained.

"Sporting activities bring tremendous benefits, especially to our young, physically and emotionally," added Mr Ong, who co-chairs the task force with Mr Wong and Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong.

"After two years of suspending sporting activities, I think that suspension is taking its toll," said Mr Ong.

Read next -  Booster dose required for those aged 12 to 17, team sports resume: Updates to Covid-19 rules at a glance

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