Singapore cautiously moving towards a new normal amid Covid-19 pandemic

Permitted S'porean and PR travellers can tap subsidies, insurance if infected | Majority of foreign workers in dorms to resume work by end of this month | Most events to remain virtual; working from home to be default option

While certain restrictions are lifted, life will not return to what it was before the spread of the coronavirus. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

With more activities and events resuming, borders gradually reopening and most foreign workers set to resume work this month, Singapore is cautiously moving towards a new normal amid the pandemic.

To support these changes, travellers who contract Covid-19 while on permitted essential travel will be able to tap financial support from today, while workers will be tested regularly to minimise the chances of a flare-up.

The multi-ministry task force on the coronavirus set out these steps yesterday, even as it stressed the need for caution and vigilance to avoid a new wave of cases.

Almost all foreign workers will be tested for Covid-19 by today, and the majority will be allowed to go back to work by the end of this month, said Education Minister Lawrence Wong during a virtual press conference.

This means that many construction activities and projects should be able to resume soon, he added.

And under changes to the charging policy for travellers getting treatment, those who head abroad under permitted schemes, and develop symptoms of Covid-19 infection within 14 days of their return to Singapore, can get more help with their hospitalisation bills.

Permitted schemes include bilateral arrangements with Malaysia and China, and any that may be implemented in future.

Since March 27, Singaporeans, permanent residents (PRs) and long-term pass holders who travelled overseas have had to pay for their own inpatient medical bills in full if they developed symptoms within 14 days of their return. They were also unable to claim from MediShield Life or Integrated Shield Plans in public and private hospitals.

But as the Government gradually reopens its borders, permitted Singaporean and PR travellers can now tap government subsidies, MediShield Life and Integrated Shield Plans for treatment.

Likewise, long-term pass holders who travel under permitted arrangements can tap financing arrangements like foreign worker insurance for their treatment.

The travellers will bear any remaining co-payment.

But while certain restrictions are lifted or eased, life will not return to what it was before the worldwide spread of the coronavirus, the task force warned.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the task force, said Singapore should not let its guard down even though the number of new Covid-19 cases here is likely to taper down by end-August as dormitories are cleared.

"We have seen the experiences everywhere in the world... So long as there is a lapse in the community or people do not observe the safe management practices carefully, these low levels of infection can suddenly flare up into large clusters anywhere, any time," he said.

Working from home should remain the default for employees. And where possible, events should remain fully virtual, or take on a hybrid physical-virtual form.

This includes large gatherings and festivities surrounding national and community occasions, said task force co-chair and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

The Health Ministry said prayers for the lunar seventh month and post-funeral religious rites will be allowed to take place in places of worship and some external venues like Housing Board common areas, if conducted by religious organisations with a good track record of safe management measures, or by workers endorsed by these organisations.

Mr Gan also urged those who are unwell to see a doctor instead of trying to self-medicate or sleeping it off, so that Covid-19 infections can be detected at an early stage.

"This will prevent one case from becoming many cases," he said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 07, 2020, with the headline Singapore cautiously moving towards a new normal amid Covid-19 pandemic. Subscribe