SINGAPORE - It is no longer necessary to block off public seating areas or close barbecue pits to prevent the transmission of Covid-19, now that Singapore has a good handle on what makes the virus spread, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Wednesday (Feb 16).
Instead, the country's safe management measures will be simplified to cover five areas. They are: group sizes, mask-wearing, workplace rules, safe distancing and capacity limits.
Should the pandemic situation change, these parameters can be more easily tightened or relaxed across the board, instead of making small changes across different settings that will add up to a "confusing web of regulations", Mr Ong said.
He told reporters at a virtual press conference that focusing on these five areas will allow restrictions to be eased in other areas.
For instance, Singapore can do away with the practice of blocking off alternate seats on park benches or urinals in toilets, as long as users are wearing masks. While some businesses may also have removed magazines from common areas and hairdryers from public showers, this is no longer necessary.
"We no longer forbid practices that actually do not make a material difference to the pandemic, but which we are observing very strictly," Mr Ong said. "I think all these little things really don't matter anymore, and we can do away with them."
Streamlining the rules will also mean that there will no longer be prescriptive rules for various social situations, the minister added.
Some examples: Barbecue pits can be open as long an as people stick to the prevailing restrictions on group size, while wedding guests do not have to be separated into zones if they abide by the rules and do not mingle with other tables.
In addition, school assemblies no longer need to be limited to 30 minutes, while team sports can resume as long as players keep to the rules on masks and group size.
Finance Minister Lawrence Wong observed that Singapore had implemented various safe management measures over the past two years in an effort to suppress the spread of Covid-19.
"Now, we are in a new phase of dealing with the pandemic. And at the same time, the rules have become complex, unwieldy - and it's becoming harder for people to remember or follow the rules," he said.
This is why the existing rules have been distilled to five key parameters, he added. "These are what we think are the most important and effective parameters, based on the experiences of the last two years."
As part of these changes, the permitted group size for social gatherings will be set at five persons across the board starting Feb 25. This means households will be able to receive five visitors at any one time, instead of five visitors a day now.
Social gatherings of up to five people will also be allowed to take place in the office. Workers will not have to stay 1m apart as long as their masks are on.
And safe distancing will be encouraged, but not mandatory, as long as all in the group keep their masks on. However, in settings where masks are removed, people will still have to stay 1m apart.
From March 4, there will no longer be varying size limits for different types of events. Instead, size limits will be imposed based on an event venue's capacity.
For example, funerals held outside the home are currently allowed to have only 30 people present at any one time. Under the changes, they will be allowed to host as many people as the venue can hold.
However, a capacity limit of 50 per cent will still be imposed for larger settings and events where more than 1,000 people are present and mask-on rules apply. This is a precaution as such settings pose more infection risks, the Health Ministry said.
They include attractions and cruises, as well as large work events, performing arts venues and sports stadiums.
The occupancy limit for shopping malls and large standalone stores will remain at 10 sq m per person of gross floor area when there are more than 1,000 visitors present.
Other rules to address the problem posed by "higher-risk activities" will not be changed for now, Mr Wong said. These include restrictions pertaining to singing, alcohol consumption at food and beverage outlets and nightlife.
"But over time, as we adjust our overall posture around the five key parameters, we will also be reviewing and updating these specific rules for the settings which I have just described," he added.