S'pore to consider next Covid-19 steps around end Dec: Lawrence Wong

Singapore is focusing on just one parameter at present when easing Covid-19 curbs, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

SINGAPORE - Singapore is unlikely to further ease Covid-19 restrictions next month, with Finance Minister Lawrence Wong saying on Saturday (Nov 20) that the country will consider its next steps "around the end of December" if all goes well.

This is part of the Government's incremental approach to tackling the virus.

While there have been requests for easing in other sectors - such as workplace restrictions or capacity limits on attractions - Singapore is focusing on just one parameter at present, he added.

The multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic on Saturday announced that people will be able to gather in groups of up to five from Monday.

This includes having five visitors over and eating out in groups of that size, even if diners are not from the same household.

"Everything else, we are holding back for the time being," Mr Wong said. "We will monitor the situation over the next few weeks, and if the overall situation remains stable, our healthcare system remains stable, we can consider the next series of moves, say, around the end of December."

At a press conference on Saturday, the task force was asked why the Government had decided against allowing people from the same household to dine out in groups of up to eight.

In response, the minister said the current easing of restrictions is "already a very big step" which will result in more social interactions and lead to more infections.

"Don't push the limit," he warned. "If our attitude is to always keep pushing the limit... there is no doubt that before too long, you will see a resurgence of cases, our hospitals will be overwhelmed again, and we will be back in this very difficult situation of deciding how to manage our healthcare system, as you see now in Europe."

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, who co-chairs the task force along with Mr Wong and Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, also gave a numerical explanation for why Singapore is exercising such caution.

Should a person meet a friend after each of them has met a different friend earlier in the day, this would add up to four interactions.

But if a group of five friends gathers after each person in the group has met a completely separate group of five, this adds up to 25 interactions.

And with eight people, this number goes up to 64, he said.

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"It's actually an exponential increase in the number of interactions," Mr Ong said. "We all had to take a deep breath and really think very carefully, look at all the data very carefully, before we decided that it's time to make this move."

Mr Wong said this also explains why people should continue to exercise restraint when planning their social interactions, adding that Singapore cannot rule out a "further tapping of the brakes" as a last resort.

During the press conference, the task force was also asked when the 300,000 migrant workers living in dormitories are likely to be allowed more freedom of movement.

From Dec 3, up to 3,000 vaccinated migrant workers will be able to visit any location in the community daily. This is an increase from 3,000 workers a week.

Mr Wong said the Government is aware that these workers need the time and space to leave their dormitories, adding that it is taking a similar incremental approach in tackling this issue.

"After one move, we monitor the situation, we monitor the effects, and then we make another move," he said.

This logic applies to all of Singapore's Covid-19 measures, whether they are targeted at migrant workers, the wider community or the country's borders, he added.

"It's on the basis of taking a stepwise approach, data- and evidence-driven, and making these continued, but steady and progressive moves towards reopening fully."

Mr Gan noted that each time Singapore experienced a wave of fresh infections, it took weeks to bring the situation back under control.

"When we have a major wave, it will take a long time for us to bring it under control," he said. "Sometimes, more haste, less speed."

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