Singapore cautiously entered phase three of its reopening yesterday, with most people not willing to explore the new boundaries that allow larger groups to dine together and meet socially.
Instead, patrons remained watchful and stuck to small groups for their meals at hawker centres in Ghim Moh and Toa Payoh, while diligently observing social distancing measures in malls such as Junction 8 in Bishan.
Groups of up to eight people can now gather socially, up from the previous limit of five, while households can also receive up to eight visitors at any one time.
The move to phase three comes as Singapore has managed to keep its number of coronavirus cases low, with only five new cases reported yesterday, including one in the community.
More than 70 per cent of local residents are also on TraceTogether, the national contact tracing programme.
Several other nations, meanwhile, have seen a recent spike in cases.
The need for vigilance remains as strong as ever, stressed Education Minister Lawrence Wong in a Facebook post yesterday.
He said that around the world, experts are warning about a post-seasonal surge in cases, as people ignore restrictions and gather for festive celebrations. This cannot be allowed to happen here, said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19.
He added that the new and more infectious strain of Covid-19 from the United Kingdom also signals the need for continued vigilance. "Please remember: There are still rules in phase three. So comply with the measures and do not let your guard down."
Under phase three, the capacity limits for malls and large standalone stores have been increased, and attractions can apply to raise their operating capacity from 50 per cent to 65 per cent.
Restrictions on religious organisations have been relaxed, and up to 250 people are now allowed at worship services.
Meanwhile, there were few groups of more than five people at the Ghim Moh Market and Food Centre during lunchtime yesterday, though fresh seat markings signalled that groups of up to eight could sit together.
The National Environment Agency (NEA) said yesterday that, in general, tables with eight seats or fewer will no longer have any seat markings, while tables with more than eight seats will have some seats marked out to ensure that dining groups remain limited to a maximum of eight people.
NEA added that dining groups at hawker centres will still have to keep 1m from one another. Where adjacent tables are less than 1m apart, some seats may be marked out to maintain safe distancing.
From next Monday, NEA said, it will also be removing access control measures at seven markets here that were introduced to ensure effective safe distancing.
Yesterday, a capacity curb on vehicles ferrying workers was also lifted, and companies now no longer need to reduce the maximum passenger capacity of these vehicles by 25 per cent.
Businesses have been preparing for phase three as well. A spokesman for Five Tapas bar in Cuppage near Orchard Road said that he and his staff have moved around tables to prepare for groups of eight who have made reservations.
Meanwhile, civil servant Benjamin Seah, 55, advocated caution. "I think Singapore has done very well but if a second wave happens like in Korea, which I think is inevitable, we should be flexible and ready to go back into phase two," he said.
• Additional reporting by Liew Ai Xin and Mok Qiu Lin