Singapore to shut workplaces and schools to curb spike in coronavirus cases

Stricter measures to act as 'circuit breaker' and will run from April 7 to May 4

Except for key economic sectors and essential services, all other work premises will close. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Singapore will shut down all schools and most workplaces, and severely limit social interactions and movement outside homes from next week as it puts in place a "circuit breaker" to stem the spike in local coronavirus cases.

Announcing this yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong added that the Government will no longer discourage people from wearing masks, and will distribute reusable ones to all households, as there is now some evidence of asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The message from PM Lee and other government leaders to Singapore residents was clear - stay at home as far as possible.

This will help keep contact to a minimum, and within the immediate household. For those who need to go out for something essential and cannot avoid crowds, they should wear a reusable mask.

In his address to the nation, PM Lee explained the stricter measures, pointing out that while the outbreak remains under control, Singapore has seen more than 50 cases daily over the past two weeks despite its best efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

Yesterday, there were 65 new confirmed cases of Covid-19, taking the total to 1,114. The country also saw its fifth death from the coronavirus, an 86-year-old nursing home resident.

PM Lee said: "Looking at the trend, I am worried that unless we take further steps, things will gradually get worse, or another big cluster may push things over the edge."

Following discussions with the multi-ministry task force, the Government was moving decisively to "pre-empt escalating infections", instead of tightening restrictions incrementally over a few weeks.

"We will therefore impose significantly stricter measures. This is like a circuit breaker," PM Lee said in his address, his third so far on Covid-19.

"It will help reduce the risk of a big outbreak occurring, and it should also help to gradually bring our numbers down. This, in turn, will allow us to relax some of the measures. This circuit breaker will apply for one month, in the first instance."

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This period will span two incubation cycles of the virus, from April 7 until May 4.

Except for those in key economic sectors and essential services - such as food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services - all other work premises will close in that period.

All other business activities that cannot be conducted by working from home have to be suspended, the Manpower Ministry said later.

Food establishments, which include restaurants, hawker centres foodcourts and coffee shops, will stay open for takeaways, but dining in will not be allowed.

Sports and recreation facilities, such as public swimming pools, country clubs, gyms and fitness studios, will also be shut, along with all recreational facilities in hotels.

All schools and institutes of higher learning will also close and move to full home-based learning from Wednesday to May 4, after schools piloted one day of home-based learning this week.

Pre-schools and student care services will also be closed, but will provide "limited services for children of parents who have to continue working", PM Lee said.

At a media conference later, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who is co-chair of the task force, said this "major circuit breaker" is meant to try and break the chain of transmission and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.

"The key advice for Singaporeans is to stay home. Go out only for essential services, and if you need to go out, avoid close contact with crowds or with people. If it is not possible to avoid close contact, wearing a reusable mask will be helpful," said Mr Gan.

Acknowledging the severe impact the measures will have on workers and businesses, PM Lee said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat will announce additional support for households and businesses in Parliament on Monday, "over and above what was provided in the two earlier Budgets".

The next few weeks will be pivotal, PM Lee stressed, noting that the number of cases will quite likely still go up in the next few days.

"It will be a long fight. But if any country can see this through, it is Singapore. We have the resources. We have the determination. We are united. By helping one another through this, we will prevail, and emerge stronger," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2020, with the headline Singapore to shut workplaces and schools to curb spike in coronavirus cases. Subscribe