Coronavirus pandemic

Coronavirus: Safe distancing measures will still be enforced

Cooperating with rules will help Singapore reach phase three sooner, says minister

People waiting to enter Hougang Mall last week. As more businesses reopen from Friday, steps must be taken to ensure the queues outside malls are properly managed. Failure to do so may result in the mall being asked to close, said National Developmen
People waiting to enter Hougang Mall last week. As more businesses reopen from Friday, steps must be taken to ensure the queues outside malls are properly managed. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

When Singapore's economy enters its second phase of reopening on Friday, the authorities will continue to ensure that safe distancing measures are observed, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

Safe distancing ambassadors and enforcement officers will still be deployed, and will make their rounds in places such as public sports facilities and food and beverage outlets' dine-in areas, which can reopen at the end of the week.

Tables for restaurant diners, for example, must be at least a metre apart, and social gatherings - while permitted - should have no more than five people.

"I hate to sound like a broken record," Mr Wong said at a virtual media conference, urging people to comply for the sake of themselves and their loved ones.

"All of us need to really look at the spirit of the requirements and do our part to allow the reopening to take place in a safe and sustainable manner," he added.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who was also at the media conference, said the wide scope of phase two has made it "very difficult and challenging" to try to prescribe rules and regulations for every possible scenario and setting.

He noted that some people would try to find ways to get round the rules, and cited the Chinese saying shang you zheng ce, xia you dui ce (the higher-ups have their policies, but those below have ways of getting around them).

This would backfire, he warned: "You can fool the rules, but you cannot fool the virus. If you violate the rules, the virus will get to you."

Mr Gan added that cooperating with the rules would help the country to reach phase three sooner.

Mall operators will also be asked to regulate the flow of people on their premises, Mr Wong said.

Capacity limits would be based on the size of the mall's gross floor area, and steps should also be taken to ensure the queues outside the malls are properly managed - avoiding having crowds of people in close contact with one another.

"If the mall operator is unable to manage crowds, the queues or put in place proper safe management practices, then we will ask the mall to close. It is better that they close and then reopen only when they are ready to deal with the crowds," he said.

He also urged firms to take safe management practices seriously - for instance, by having staff work from home wherever possible, and having split-team arrangements.

This would be in the company's best interests, he added, as an infection at the workplace could result in many staff members being quarantined - and "the entire workplace may have to be shut down".

"But if workplaces are responsible, and do what is required of them, but also do what is in their own self-interest... then even if there were to be an infection in the workplace setting, the business might not need to close and many of the staff may not be impacted.

"Because they will have been separated, many will be working from home, so there will be business continuity," added Mr Wong.

Groups such as the Restaurant Association of Singapore and Singapore Tenants United for Fairness (SGTUFF) welcomed the news that dine-in business and various other operations can resume.

An SGTUFF spokesman said front-line businesses remain "cautiously optimistic" about the future.

"Most of us expect business to be 20 per cent to 30 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. The costs of running our businesses will therefore exceed the revenues we will get in the months ahead. The rental rebates mandated by the Government would have been used to cover for our rental costs from March to June," the spokesman said.

"We continue to urge landlords to work with us as symbiotic partners to figure out win-win solutions to the high rental costs for the months ahead... Now is the time for unity and working as one cohesive community to start figuring out how to revive what was an already struggling bricks-and-mortar sector. There is no more time to waste."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: Safe distancing measures will still be enforced. Subscribe