SINGAPORE - Singapore will relax curbs on dining out, household visits and some social activities from Monday (Nov 22), as the country gets back on track towards its goal of living with Covid-19 after nearly two months of stabilisation measures.
The easing means fully vaccinated people from different households will be allowed to dine at food and beverage outlets in groups of up to five from Monday.
People can also gather in groups of up to five and receive a maximum of five visitors a day, up from two. Rules on weddings and solemnisations will be relaxed as well.
The relaxed dining rules will take effect at hawker centres and coffee shops from Tuesday, as long as these establishments are able to check patrons' vaccination status. If no such systems are in place, group sizes will remain capped at two.
But measures will be further tightened for those who remain unvaccinated by choice, with these people no longer allowed to show a negative Covid-19 test to bypass vaccination-differentiated measures from Jan 1.
This means only fully vaccinated people, as well as those who are medically ineligible, have recovered from Covid-19 or are too young to be vaccinated, will be allowed into buildings such as malls.
Announcing the easing at a press conference on Saturday, Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong described the stabilisation phase as a "detour" that showed how Singapore needs to be nimble in its Covid-19 approach. The current set of restrictions was due to have lapsed after Sunday.
"We are now in a better position to further relax the safe management measures," he added, noting that the overall Covid-19 situation has remained stable and the weekly infection growth rate has stayed at one or lower.
The proportion of severe cases has also been stable, added Mr Gan, one of three co-chairs of the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic. The current raft of tightened measures are due to lapse on Monday.
But he urged unvaccinated people to stay at home as much as possible to protect themselves against the virus. People visiting households with unvaccinated people are also encouraged to test themselves prior to the visit.
The Health Ministry on Saturday said households should accept only vaccinated visitors to avoid exposing those who are unvaccinated to the virus.
"I know some prefer to open up more quickly, but we must do so in a very careful and step-by-step manner," Mr Gan said, reiterating that the task force will observe outcomes from the current easing before relaxing measures further. "This way, we hope to avoid any disruptive U-turns."
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said the current period provides a "valuable window of opportunity" to ease measures, and will allow people to ease into the upcoming festive season rather than risking a sudden spike in cases.
While the easing will likely lead to more social interactions, which may result in more daily Covid-19 cases and more patients getting hospitalised, the growing number of people getting vaccine boosters - along with vaccination-differentiated measures - will help mitigate the impact on Singapore's healthcare system, he added.
If Singapore misses this window and delays reopening until next year, the added protection for those who have received boosters may have waned, Mr Ong said, resulting in poorer outcomes in terms of Covid-19 infections and the resulting strain on the healthcare system.
Support measures for affected sectors and individuals - including F&B outlets, gyms and taxi and private hire car drivers - will also be tapered down, in tandem with the easing.
Vaccination-differentiated measures will be expanded to hospitals and nursing homes from Monday, the authorities said.
This means in-person visits will be allowed only if visitors and patients or nursing home residents are fully vaccinated, unless either party has a medical exemption.
If one party is not fully vaccinated, such visits will be allowed only "under exceptional circumstances on a case-by-case basis, as advised by the hospitals and homes".
From Dec 1, people who are medically ineligible for vaccination will also be able to enter venues or participate in activities where vaccination is typically required.
These vaccination-differentiated measures will also be expanded further from the same date to cover all libraries under the National Library Board and selected activities in community clubs or centres under the People's Association.
Singapore's stabilisation phase started on Sept 27 following a surge in Covid-19 cases, and was intended to last a month. But it was subsequently extended another month to Nov 21 as the country's healthcare system remained at risk of being overwhelmed.
Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said the task force will try its best to avoid rolling back any measures.
He noted that the current easing is deliberately focused on one parameter - the maximum size of social gatherings - and that the relaxation is coupled with stricter vaccination-differentiated measures.
There have been requests to relax measures in other areas, such as expanded capacity limits for attractions and eased workplace restrictions, he noted.
"Everything else we are holding back for the time being, and again this is part of our incremental approach."
If all goes well, he said the task force will consider a further easing of measures around the end of December.