Coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus: Reopening of the economy will be gradual and phased

Ministers to unveil blueprint on how to do so, but say they will do it step by step

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT MINISTER LAWRENCE WONG (above)
NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT MINISTER LAWRENCE WONG (above)

The reopening of Singapore's economy will happen in phases after the end of the circuit breaker period on June 1, with the Government monitoring the number of new Covid-19 cases each time to decide how soon even more restrictions can be lifted.

The co-chairmen of the inter-ministry task force, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, said that this would mean opening up one part of the economy and then making sure it did not lead to a spike in cases before allowing more parts to open up.

"If we do the first step, we continue to monitor and the numbers do not spike, the virus situation remains under control, and we have some confidence in all the measures we have put in place, then we can do the next step, and then so on and so forth. So that will be the way we operate, once the circuit breaker ends," said Mr Wong.

Mr Gan said that this could even mean reintroducing some circuit breaker measures if the situation flares up again. He added that what happens in the period after the authorities take the first steps to reopen the economy next month will be critical.

"We can't do it (reopen) in one step. And the progress, in terms of timing and in terms of the extent of the opening, will also depend on the number of cases after the first step," he said.

"If we have a big surge of cases right after the first step of opening, of course, then the progress will have to be slowed down. And it may become necessary for us to reintroduce some of the circuit breaker measures to ensure that we continue to keep the numbers low."

Mr Gan also said the first businesses to reopen next month will likely be "more essential services that are quite critical to keep the economy going and keep life as normal as possible".

The task force has yet to announce what businesses will be allowed to reopen next month, but Mr Gan said more details will likely be announced next week.

The Government has repeatedly said that life will not return to normal straightaway after June 1, when circuit breaker measures to choke off the spread of the coronavirus are eased. Safe distancing measures should still be observed.

"We do not expect that (after) June 1, we will open everything and everything will go back to normal, (or that we should) begin to celebrate and have parties," said Mr Gan during a virtual press conference yesterday.

"We need to do so in a very calibrated, very careful way, because we have seen experiences in other countries when it is open, everybody goes back to celebrate, and new cases and clusters emerge," added Mr Gan.

The Health Ministry yesterday confirmed 884 new coronavirus cases in Singapore, taking the country's tally of infections past 24,000. Three of the new patients are Singaporeans or permanent residents.

I DIDN'T GO TO THE BARBER... MY WIFE CUT MY HAIR

First of all... I didn't go to the barber (today). You can now, but please don't rush to the barber today. There is no need, you have plenty of time, they will be open. (My) hair was cut by my wife at home.

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT MINISTER LAWRENCE WONG, responding to a reporter's comment that he had got a haircut yesterday, the first day that hair salons were allowed to reopen after the tightening of circuit breaker measures.

The country's stricter social distancing measures, which the Government calls a circuit breaker, came into force on April 7 and were to last till May 4. They were later extended to June 1.

To help with contact tracing, two technology tools have also been introduced: SafeEntry, a digital check-in system for people visiting workplaces, supermarkets and other premises; and TraceTogether, an app that identifies users who have been in close contact with other users. Last week, the Government suggested that wearable dongles might also be introduced to help with contact tracing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 13, 2020, with the headline 'Reopening of the economy will be gradual and phased'. Subscribe