SINGAPORE - Singapore is changing its Covid-19 rules to make them easier to understand, in a move to better adapt to future changes in the pandemic situation.
These changes will impact healthcare protocols for infected people, workplace testing requirements, border measures and safe management measures.
"These rules have accumulated over the past two years and become quite unwieldy," said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung. "By streamlining them, we can adopt a posture that will better enable us to open up when the time is right."
But it is not yet time to ease restrictions as Singapore is still climbing the epidemic curve, he added at a press conference on Wednesday (Feb 16).
Singapore saw its largest single-day spike in coronavirus cases on Tuesday, when a total of 19,420 infections were reported. Of these, 19,179 were local cases and the rest imported.
"If Singapore is like many other countries that have gone through, or are going through the Omicron wave, in a few weeks, cases will come down - perhaps even quite dramatically," the minister added.
"And then we will be in a position to ease travel rules, as well as our domestic safe management measures."
Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong said bolder moves can be considered once the Omicron wave is over, for instance raising group sizes from the current five to eight, 10 or more.
As part of the changes, Singapore will focus its safe management measures on five areas. These are: group sizes, mask-wearing, workplace rules, safe distancing and capacity limits.
From Feb 25, households will be allowed to host five visitors at any one time, instead of five visitors a day. Social gatherings at workplaces will also be allowed to resume in groups of up to five.
In all settings, safe distancing is encouraged - but not mandatory - as long as masks remain on. But people should still remain 1m apart for all events and gatherings where masks are off.
The changes mean that these measures are now more consistent across different settings, while other restrictions - such as blocking off alternate seats in public areas or sealing off barbecue pits - can be done away with altogether.
Rules for Covid-19 patients and their close contacts have also been streamlined, to allow more people to be treated by general practitioners and ease the load on hospitals.
From Wednesday, general practitioners will manage almost all Covid-19 patients above the age of three. And people who have been in close contact with an infected person will be told to monitor their health for five days, down from seven days.
And from Feb 18, rostered routine testing will no longer be mandatory for most workers. Only those working with vulnerable people - that is, healthcare workers and those in the eldercare and pre-school sectors - will have to keep on taking regular Covid-19 tests.
Singapore will also condense several existing travel categories into a new "general travel" category, and create a new "restricted" category for countries where the situation warrants closer watching.
In addition, people arriving from Feb 21 will face relaxed border measures, including simpler on-arrival testing requirements.
This is because Singapore's Covid-19 incidence rate is now comparable with most overseas destinations, and imported cases are unlikely to affect the trajectory of local cases, the Health Ministry said in a statement.
"Our focus has thus shifted to facilitating inflows from travellers who are less likely to become severely ill and burden our healthcare capacity while they are in Singapore," it said.
The Vaccinated Travel Lane scheme, which facilitates quarantine-free travel into Singapore, will also be expanded to more countries including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines.