50% of staff can return to workplace, stricter rules for the unvaccinated: S'pore's new Covid-19 rules

New measures were announced by the multi-ministry task force tackling the Covid-19 pandemic on Dec 14, 2021. PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI, ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Vaccination-differentiated safe management measures will be expanded to more settings in the new year, as Singapore anticipates a potential surge in local Omicron cases.

The Health Ministry said the extension of vaccination-differentiated safe management measures to more settings is to better protect the vulnerable and at-risk groups.

Given preliminary data suggesting that the Covid-19 variant Omicron is at least as transmissible as the Delta variant and may carry a higher risk of reinfection, there is a need to put in place additional measures to make sure Singapore is prepared to deal with a spread of the Omicron variant in the community, the ministry said. 

The country is pressing forward with its booster vaccination programme and urging more regular testing in the workplace and community, said the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 at a virtual press conference on Tuesday (Dec 14).

Here are Tuesday's key announcements:

1. Vaccination-differentiated safe management measures to be expanded to more settings and events


From Feb 1, vaccination-differentiated safe management measures (VDS) will cover all indoor sports facilities and institutes of higher learning, as well as apply to leisure guests in hotels, hostels and serviced apartments.

This means only those who are fully vaccinated, those medically ineligible for Covid-19 vaccines, people who have recovered from the virus, as well as children aged 12 and below will be able to enter such places.

Students in institutes of higher learning who are completing their full-time Nitec, Higher Nitec, diploma or degree programmes will be exempted from the VDS measures requirement when entering their respective educational institutions. More details will be released by the relevant agencies.

Media conferences, work-related events and funerary memorial events will also require VDS from Feb 1.

Funerals, wakes or funeral processions held during or before burial or cremation will continue to allow 30 participants at any time, and will not be subject to VDS.

From Feb 1, all events, irrespective of event size, must implement VDS to proceed.

Currently, only events with more than 50 attendees are required to implement VDS.

The Ministry of Health said that even smaller-sized events can spark transmission that can then spread to wider groups of people, especially in view of the Omicron variant.

READ FULL STORY: S'pore braces itself for Omicron wave: More ICU beds, more places open to only the vaccinated

2. Singapore citizens can enter Malaysia via land VTL


From Dec 20, Singapore citizens will be able to enter Malaysia using the land vaccinated travel lane (VTL).

Malaysian citizens will also be able to enter Singapore using the same lane.

Currently, only citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders of the country they are entering are able to travel via the land VTL.

There will be no change to current test protocols in either country.

All travellers entering Singapore will have to abide by prevailing test protocols and safe management measures, which include the post-arrival seven-day Covid-19 antigen rapid test regime.

READ FULL STORY: Singapore citizens can enter Malaysia via land VTL from Dec 20

3. Half of those who can work from home allowed to return to the office


From Jan 1, Singapore will ease its default work-from-home stance and allow 50 per cent of those who can work from home to return to the office.

This comes after an earlier announcement that from Jan 1, only employees who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 within the past 180 days can return to the workplace.

Unvaccinated employees will not be allowed to return to the workplace unless they have tested negative for Covid-19, though this concession is currently being reviewed, said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Tuesday.

The capacity cap for work-related events will be raised for events where all participants remain masked and seated at a safe distance from one another. All participants must also meet vaccination-differentiated safe management measure requirements.

Currently, the cap is 50 people. More details will be released at a later date.

Social gatherings at the workplace will continue to be disallowed.

4. Shorter post-vaccination observation time for mRNA boosters


The post-vaccination observation time for booster vaccination doses of mRNA vaccines will be reduced from 30 minutes to 15 minutes.

The Ministry of Health said that local and international data indicates that there is a lower risk of serious allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis from booster vaccination doses of mRNA vaccines.

READ FULL STORY: No booking required for Moderna booster shots; monitoring time for booster jabs to be halved to 15 minutes

5. Reduced exemption period for those who have recovered from Covid-19


From Jan 1, all those who have recovered from Covid-19 and are not fully vaccinated will be given a 180-day exemption after infection to enter settings where VDS is implemented.

This is reduced from the current exemption period of 270 days, which is calculated from the day of the first positive Sars-CoV-2 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result obtained in Singapore.

The Health Ministry said the adjustment is due to concerns over the heightened transmissibility and reinfection risk of the Omicron variant, and quicker waning of protection acquired through past infections.

Recovered people who are not fully vaccinated should seek to complete their primary series vaccination regime promptly, it said.

Non-fully vaccinated individuals who recover from Covid-19 before Jan 1 will also have their exemption period reduced to 180 days.

Individuals who will already exceed the 180-day period as at Jan 1 will be granted an additional one-month grace period till Jan 31 to complete their primary series vaccination regime, so as to continue being able to enter VDS settings.

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As recovered individuals need only one dose of mRNA Covid-19 vaccine or two doses of Sinovac under the National Vaccination Programme to complete their primary series vaccination regime, they should do so latest by Jan 17, to allow an interval of 14 days from the completion of the regimen to be considered fully vaccinated.

During the grace period from the date when they have exceeded the 180-day period, these individuals can produce their discharge memo for entry into VDS settings.

READ FULL STORY: Boosters needed for extension of full vaccination status as Covid-19 variants emerge

6. Updates to mandatory rostered routine testing


The Government will extend subsidies to employers in sectors with mandatory rostered routine testing till March 31 next year.

The subsidies were supposed to end on Dec 31 this year.

The Health Ministry said that beyond March 31, employers and businesses should be prepared to factor in testing costs as part of their business operations.

It added that during this period, as Singapore steps up its efforts to quickly detect and ring-fence Omicron cases, all sectors will remain on their existing mandatory rostered routine testing regime, until more information is available on the Omicron variant.

7. Expanded network of quick test centres


The Health Promotion Board has set up or partnered private providers to set up close to 60 quick test centres, where members of the public can make an appointment for a self-administered antigen rapid test that is supervised by trained personnel.

Each test costs $15 and can be used to fulfil workplace requirements under the rostered routine testing regime, for pre-event or pre-activity tests, or by anyone who wishes to get tested before attending a large-scale event.

The providers include mall operators such as CapitaLand, Frasers Property Retail, hotels under the Far East Hospitality Group, InterContinental Hotel Group, Accor Hotels, as well as Resorts World Sentosa.

The ministry expects at least 60 additional centres to be set up within the next few weeks, bringing the total number of such centres to 120. 

READ FULL STORY: Number of Covid-19 quick test centres to double to about 120 in coming weeks

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