Social activities for seniors on hold for 14 days as precaution

Singapore looking at a fuller range of social distancing measures to curb spread of virus

The suspension will affect courses and activities at community centres and residents' committees in areas like music, drama, dance, exercise, basic IT and career development.

All social activities for seniors organised by government agencies will be suspended for 14 days from today, as Singapore ramps up measures to protect a group particularly vulnerable to Covid-19.

More permanent steps will help combat threats over the long haul.

The precautions come amid a growing number of infections linked to a dinner at Safra Jurong - now Singapore's largest coronavirus cluster with 39 cases - attended by many senior citizens.

The suspension will affect courses and activities at community and residents' committee centres in areas like music, drama, dance, exercise, basic IT and career development.

The People's Association (PA) said the suspension will affect 2,600 classes and 11,000 activities attended by about 290,000 participants. PA defines seniors as those aged 50 and above.

Care services for seniors such as those at nursing homes and inpatient and day hospices, senior care centre services and home-based care services will continue to run, but with additional precautions.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who co-chairs a multi-ministry task force to fight the coronavirus, said yesterday: "While we encourage seniors to be active, there is now evidence of Covid-19 transmission among the seniors participating in such social activities, because some individuals who were unwell had continued to participate in them."

Mr Gan said he is "very concerned" that many of the locally transmitted cases resulted from the socially irresponsible actions of a few individuals, young and old, who continued to go to work and socialise despite being unwell.

The new measures are the most extensive social distancing efforts to date, and could be extended even further.

National Development Minister and fellow task force co-chair Lawrence Wong noted that as the virus "spreads to countries everywhere", Singapore's approach must shift - maintaining basic surveillance at borders but doubling down on measures within the country.

The coronavirus has so far infected more than 114,000 people worldwide and killed over 4,000.

As of noon yesterday, Singapore had 166 confirmed cases, with 93 patients discharged.

Mr Wong said the Republic will look at a fuller range of social distancing measures, including for public events, community activities, school closures, religious services, workplaces and schools.

But the task force is mindful that such measures can be disruptive. Mr Wong said that for moves that are likely to be more disruptive, sufficient lead time would be given so Singaporeans can prepare well in advance. He likened the moves to "circuit breakers", where Singapore tries to "stop the transmission chain and flatten the epidemic curve".

Some will be implemented on a temporary basis, or over a discrete period of time, but there will also be permanent measures put in place.

One example is the SG Clean campaign, Mr Wong said: "That's something we should do, not just with this particular outbreak, but in fact we should adopt better hygiene standards at the personal level, at the public level."

Other measures that the Government will continue to stress include washing hands frequently with soap and using common serving utensils rather than double-dipping.

"It's critical to implement the right measures at the right time," said Mr Wong.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 11, 2020, with the headline Social activities for seniors on hold for 14 days as precaution. Subscribe