Social gatherings pose 'a different magnitude of risk' of Covid-19 compared to contact on public transport: Lawrence Wong

A packed MRT train leaving Bishan towards the city, on June 2, 2020. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Social interactions pose "a different magnitude of risk altogether" from transient contact on public transport and that is why current rules on meeting family and friends continue to be more strict, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said on Monday (June 8).

Mr Wong, who is co-chair of a multi-ministry task force managing the Covid-19 pandemic, was responding to suggestions of a possible inconsistency in safe distancing rules during the first phase of Singapore's reopening from the circuit breaker period on June 2.

In phase one, Singaporeans are allowed to visit their parents or grandparents, but they can receive up to only two visitors from the same household once a day.

Other non-essential activities and social gatherings continue to be prohibited, so as not to bring together more people who are living in different households.

Mr Wong said during a virtual press conference that some people had asked why being in contact with other commuters on public transport is acceptable during phase one, yet more meetings between family members are not allowed.

He said he understood why such comparisons were being made, but said that the settings and risks in the two cases are very different.

When more people use public transport as they go back to workplaces and schools it will be difficult, and potentially impossible, to maintain safe distances, he said.

That is why other precautions have to be taken, such as the wearing of masks, requiring people not to talk on buses and trains, and stepping up cleaning regimes.

"In any case, the public transport journeys are not long. These are transient risks, but with these additional precautions, we are able to minimise the risk further, and ensure that public transport journeys are safe."

"But social interactions are of a different magnitude of risk altogether. When we gather together whether to talk, to interact, to have a meal together, the risks are much higher," Mr Wong said.

He noted that evidence in Singapore and overseas show that the vast majority of infected cases are typically spread by a few events that involve social interactions and gatherings.

There has been some increase in daily community cases since the end of the circuit breaker period on June 1, said Mr Wong, and this is partly due to testing being stepped up.

On Sunday (June 7), the Ministry of Health said in its daily report that the number of new cases in the community increased to an average of eight per day in the past week, compared to four the week before.

"On the whole, our assessment is that the situation over the past week remains under control, and the new daily cases are within expectations," said Mr Wong.

He urged Singaporeans not to "exploit each and every rule to the fullest possible degree".

"We want to appeal to everyone... really to understand the spirit of the regulation and continue to uphold precautions, stay home wherever possible, minimise contacts to the largest extent possible," he said.

The authorities will continue to monitor the situation over the coming week, and decide by the middle of June whether to move to phase two.

"If we all do our part to comply with the measures in phase one, we will be able to keep community transmission low and stable through this period, and it gives us a much better chance of getting into phase two early," he added.

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