SINGAPORE - The festive year end is here and many are in a celebrative spirit but there will be no let up on coronavirus safety measures, which will remain in full force for some time yet.
Starting this weekend, there will be more checks on food and beverage (F&B) outlets to ensure compliance with safe management measures, said the Ministry of Sustainability and the Environment (MSE) in a statement on Friday (Dec 18).
The stepped-up surveillance will extend over the next few weeks to cover the end-of-year festive period.
Reiterating that government enforcement against offenders will remain tough even though the Covid-19 cases are low, the ministry said: "Covid-19 remains a grave threat and we must remain vigilant even during the festive period. The Government will not hesitate to take strong enforcement action against operators and individuals who treat safe management measures with flagrant disregard.
"Errant operators and individuals will face fines, temporary closure, and prosecution to the full extent of the law."
Singapore has seen a low rate of community transmission in recent weeks, with no new community cases in the past week, and many businesses and individuals have been caught pushing the limits of the restrictions which are in place.
On Nov 4, the police announced that 57 people were being investigated for breaching Covid-19 rules at unlicensed public entertainment outlets in the Ubi and Kallang areas.
On Dec 5, Gemma Steakhouse at the National Gallery Singapore was ordered by MSE to suspend operations for 20 days for holding a dinner for 75 guests back in October and failing to prevent inter-mingling.
On Monday (Dec 14), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that Singapore would enter phase three of its reopening from Dec 28, but he urged everyone to continue to keep their guard up as the Covid-19 virus has not been eradicated and there is still a long way to go.
Under phase three, group size for social gatherings will go up from five to eight, and capacity limits in public spaces, such as malls, attractions and places of workship, will also be increased.
"While we recognise that many may wish to meet up with family and friends during the festive period or visit popular areas such as Orchard Road, food and beverage outlets and members of the public must continue to take safe management measures seriously, as dining out is an activity that involves considerable risks," said the ministry.
Experts say enforcement of rules are necessary even with low community transmission numbers.
Speaking to The Straits Times on Friday, Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang , vice-dean of global health at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health in the National University of Singapore, said the asymptomatic or mild Covid-19 infection in the young and healthy shows that there may still be a low-level spread in the community.
"We have seen many examples of countries lauded for their success in Covid-19 control only for them to experience second and subsequent waves that were much harder to control," he said.
"Therefore, it is still important to limit social interactions at this point in time, so we do not suddenly discover a large cluster of infections similar to what Hong Kong or South Korea experienced."
Under the current phase two Covid-19 regulations, social gatherings in groups of more than five outside an individual's residence are not allowed.
F&B outlets are not allowed to accept bookings from groups that are larger than five, even if such groups are split across multiple tables.
Intermingling between groups is also prohibited.
Venues which are traditionally popular during the holiday season such as Tanjong Beach Club in Sentosa say that they are ready for the increased checks, and that guests have so far been "understanding and gracious."
"We are increasing the number of our safety ambassadors to ensure everything runs smoothly and that everyone is adhering to the government rules," said the beach club's general manager Christian Hartmann.
The venue is also increasing signage and training for staff to help them remind guests of the rules.