Singaporeans should be prepared for a quieter, more subdued Chinese New Year, and continue to abide by existing rules on dining out, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.
This means face masks should be worn when tossing the traditional yusheng, with no accompanying recitation of the usual auspicious phrases.
"There should not be any singing or loud shouting or talking during a meal," said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic.
Similarly, people should not book multiple tables in a restaurant when dining out, he added.
The minister warned that enforcement checks will be stepped up at food and beverage outlets, shopping malls and other crowded public venues, with strict penalties for those found in breach of the rules. Individuals can be fined or prosecuted in court, while business owners can have their operations suspended.
The Government has tightened rules on household visits ahead of Chinese New Year, in a pre-emptive move to minimise the number of social interactions and prevent the spread of Covid-19.
From Tuesday, all households will be able to receive only up to eight unique guests a day, while individuals are encouraged to cap their visits at two households a day.
The minister noted that many places which have been successful in controlling infections so far - such as Taiwan and Hong Kong - are also putting in place restrictions on Chinese New Year celebrations. China is also imposing curbs.
"Let us be mentally prepared that Chinese New Year this year will not be the same as before," Mr Wong said. "It will be quieter, it will be more subdued, and we will have to be more disciplined in how we go about our daily activities and interactions."
When asked how the authorities will enforce the new rule on household visits, Mr Wong said that enforcement officers will do random spot checks.
Neighbours of those in breach of the rules may also contact the authorities, he said, noting that this happened on several occasions during the circuit breaker period.
"We know it is not easy to enforce," he said. "It may not be 100 per cent, because you can't have people everywhere, in every home, checking 100 per cent of the time. But we will get feedback from residents themselves, we will be doing random checks."
Mr Wong was also asked whether the Government had other rules or guidelines on Chinese New Year customs, such as the exchanging of oranges or gifting of red packets.
It is impossible to enforce rules on interactions that take place within a home, he replied.
People are encouraged to meet virtually rather than in person, and give electronic red packets instead. "Really, it is up to individuals themselves to do their part and cooperate with these advisories," he said.
The key thing is to protect the elderly, who are most vulnerable to the virus, added Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who co-chairs the task force.
This means observing basic hygiene measures such as washing one's hands before giving oranges or red packets.
"Exercise caution," Mr Gan said. "Always bear in mind the safety of the seniors... so that you do what you can to protect them."
Ms Elsie See, who works in the garment industry, said her family is planning to make phone calls instead of house visits this year, as her relatives are quite old.
"All of us come into contact with a lot of people as part of our jobs on a daily basis, so we wanted to play it safe and not take any chances," the 29-year-old said.
But student Thomas Tan, 21, admitted to being slightly disappointed by the news, as he had hoped to visit more friends during the Chinese New Year period.
"I won't be able to catch up with everyone like I normally do, but I think the measures are reasonable as we should focus on combating the virus instead of getting sucked into festivities," he said.
• Additional reporting by Cheryl Tan