SINGAPORE - Singapore will significantly ease its current pandemic restrictions and live with Covid-19 as it has reached a major milestone in battling the virus, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Thursday (March 24).
But the changes to Covid-19 rules stop short of a complete opening up, and the Republic will maintain its measured approach to dealing with the virus that has served it well since the pandemic began, PM Lee said.
He also urged Singaporeans to be psychologically prepared "for more twists and turns ahead".
Major changes that will take effect next Tuesday (March 29) include masks becoming optional outdoors, doubling maximum group sizes to 10 people, allowing 75 per cent of employees to return to workplaces, and a substantial easing of border restrictions now that the Omicron wave is well under control, PM Lee said in his live broadcast to the nation.
He noted that countries that have taken a "Freedom Day" approach - where most or all restrictions are lifted all at once - have seen Covid-19 cases rise, and with that an attendant rise in deaths.
"They have declared the pandemic over, relaxed all restrictions at once. Now they are anxiously watching their infection and mortality numbers rising rapidly again," he said.
"We are choosing to maintain our measured approach, which has served us well over the past two years."
After next week's easing, the Government will wait for the situation to stabilise before deciding on its next moves.
If all goes well, Singapore will ease up further, PM Lee said, as he cautioned against thinking that it will be a straight path to a new normal from here.
"With more interactions, we too may see another wave of cases, and Omicron will not be the last variant we encounter," he said.
While the hope is that new variants of the virus will become progressively milder and more flu-like, it is also possible that more aggressive and dangerous mutants will surface, just like Delta did, he added.
If that happens, Singapore may have to backtrack and tighten up restrictions again, he said.
"We cannot rule this out, even though we hope it will not be necessary," said PM Lee. "But whatever happens, we now have the knowledge and the means to keep everyone safe."
This could be another booster jab, or administering an updated vaccine, he said.
While Singapore has come a long way in its fight against Covid-19, the country is not yet at the finish line, he added.
"Key to our response has been the trust that Singaporeans have placed in your government, in the medical authorities, and in each other," he said.
Singaporeans have kept faith with one another throughout this journey, and this solidarity remains crucial as the country tackles fresh challenges, he added.
PM Lee urged everyone to take the latest announcements in the right spirit, and resume more normal lives, such as enjoying larger gatherings, going outdoors without masks, or reuniting with loved ones abroad.
But do not throw all caution to the wind, he said.
"Each one of us must still play our part. Comply with the revised safe management measures. If you feel ill, test yourself. If you test positive, isolate yourself at home. If you test negative, and decide to go out, please wear a mask to protect others, even outdoors, just in case," he said.
"Let us all continue to exercise personal and social responsibility to keep ourselves well, to keep others safe, and to avoid adding to the burden on our healthcare workers.
"That way, even when new problems arise, we stand a much better chance of keeping things under control and staying on the path to a new normal."