New Covid-19 measures slated to start on Feb 25 postponed due to infection surge

The current rules will remain in place in the meantime. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - The implementation date for changes to existing Covid-19 safe management measures will be revised, with a new date to be announced shortly, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Thursday (Feb 24).

This is due to the current surge in daily cases, and the extensive work involved in going through the different rules in different settings, it said in a statement.

The current rules will remain in place in the meantime, it added.

The multi-ministry task force (MTF) on Covid-19 had announced on Feb 16 that existing safe management measures (SMMs) will be streamlined to make it easier for everyone to understand and comply with.

It would have entailed, among other things, allowing groups of five to visit homes at any one time, social gatherings of up to five people at workplaces, adjustments to vaccination-differentiated SMMs (VDS) for unvaccinated children aged 12 years and below, and the resumption of team sports.

"As this streamlining exercise involves extensive amendments to existing regulations that have accumulated over the past two years, we announced then that the changes will be implemented in phases, on Feb 25 and March 4, 2022," said MOH in its statement on Thursday.

"Given the current surge in daily cases, and the extensive work involved in going through the detailed rules across different settings, the MTF has reviewed the matter and has decided to consolidate and streamline the SMMs in one go instead."

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung had said during a press conference on Feb 16 that the country’s safe management measures will be simplified to cover five areas. They are: group sizes, mask wearing, workplace rules, safe distancing and capacity limits.

Among them, all sports will be allowed to proceed from Feb 25 with up to 30 fully vaccinated people, including players, coaches and umpires, at supervised or operated sports facilities. 

The maximum number of visitors per household was to be adjusted from five people per day to five people at any one time. 

Singapore is currently in the midst of a surge in Omicron cases, with more than 20,000 daily cases reported in the last two days.

Professor Dale Fisher, a senior infectious diseases consultant at the National University Hospital, said it is better to do the streamlining well rather than implement it and risk confusion.

“It’s critical that the authorities ensure that as changes are made, there are no conflicts or contradictions and that the new rules are communicated succinctly,” he said.

Workers arranging chairs without safe distancing at Our Tampines Hub on Feb 24, 2022. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

He added that there are currently many patients in hospital with Covid-19, and usual services, including elective surgery, are affected.

“If the current measures are keeping transmission and severe disease down, then easing restrictions could exacerbate the problem in acute hospitals,” he said.

He also said that individuals can do more diagnosing and management themselves rather than seek medical care simply because they have Covid-19.

“This is much more like a common cold now than the Covid-19 of 2020 when there was no protection from the vaccine and the variant was also more dangerous then,” he said.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said in a Facebook post on Thursday afternoon that “with a heavy heart we are maintaining the status quo for congregational prayer and activities at the mosques”.

The 1m space between worshippers will stay, and so will zones and safe distancing markings, it said.

Reverend Dominic Yeo, the lead pastor at Trinity Christian Centre, said that after the Feb 16 announcement, the church had made plans, such as to reinstate concurrent services across both its sites in Paya Lebar and Bukit Batok, as well as increase the number of attendees per session. The largest hall has a capacity of 3,000.

With the current cap of 1,000 people per service, the church has had to stagger its services, and families were inconvenienced, he said. 

“The postponement of the implementation date is unfortunate but not detrimental. In such a climate, the dance with SMMs is something that we are prepared for and have been doing. We still see the opening up as something we are working towards as a nation,” he said.

Ms Ellis Eng, managing director of precision engineering firm Certact Engineering, said the postponement does not affect her company much, as desks are currently kept 1m apart with acrylic panels between tables and there have not been plans for social gatherings in the workplace since the pandemic started.

Workers removing safe distancing markers at Our Tampines Hub on Feb 24, 2022. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

But the removal of the 1m safe distance in mask-on settings would have been helpful for meetings and briefings, she said.

“When we do our production meetings, due to the environmental factors when machines are operating, it will not be a silent environment. Having to keep 1m distance away, a lot of times my supervisor would need to talk louder and conversation would be cut short,” she said.

Mr Nicholas Teo, 27, a content creator, said it was “low-key depressing when the measures keep changing and when we finally have something to look forward to, snap - it’s gone”.

He had booked a football field for this Sunday for a group of 30, including one referee, after the news last week. He had been playing five against five previously.

“Five versus five is the most accessible way of playing football in Singapore, but it’s very short high-intensity stuff. You also don’t really think much about tactics, you just run around. When you play the full game, it’s like watching what you see on TV come to life,” he said.

  • Additional reporting by Laura Chia

Measures put on hold

These measures were to have kicked in today, but they are now on hold:

Group sizes: The maximum number of unique visitors per household was to be adjusted to five people at any one time. It will remain at five unique visitors a day.

Safe distancing: It would not have been required between individuals or groups in all mask-on settings, but only for mask-off settings.

Sports: All sports were to be allowed to proceed with up to 30 fully vaccinated people, including players, coaches and umpires, at supervised sports facilities or those run by operators.

Workplaces: Social gatherings of up to five were to be allowed.

These measures, meant to kick in on March 4, will also be on hold:

Capacity limits: Specific size limits for events such as religious services, business events, media conferences, funerary memorial events, wedding receptions and mask-on classes were to have been lifted. Zoning requirements, which see wedding guests divided into groups of 100, for example, were to have ended as well.

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