Task force fleshes out plans for next steps in reopening Singapore economy

It will decide in mid-June whether to move to phase two of process by end of the month

Dining in at food and beverage outlets will be subject to a cap of five people per group during phase 2. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Even as Singapore prepares for the lifting of the circuit breaker measures on Tuesday, a ministerial task force yesterday fleshed out plans for how the country might move on to phase two of opening up the economy by the end of next month.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that a decision will be made in mid-June on whether conditions are right for Singapore to allow a broader range of activities by the end of the month.

This move into phase two of Sin-gapore's calibrated reopening will hinge on keeping the community spread of Covid-19 low and stable over the next two weeks, he said, adding the caveat that the time-line could change, given how fluid the situation is.

If this timeline is given the go-ahead, then, subject to restrictions, people will be able to dine in at food outlets, exercise at stadiums, visit swimming pools and have small gatherings before the end of next month.

"We will decide by the middle of June on whether we want to take the next step to move to phase two," said Mr Wong, who is co-chair of the multi-ministry task force tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

But for this to happen, fellow co-chair and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong stressed the importance of exercising caution even after Tuesday, when Singapore exits the circuit breaker and enters the first phase of its reopening: "I think if we start with a big bang party, we are going to get into trouble."

About 75 per cent of the economy can resume operations in phase one, which the authorities had earlier said would last four to six weeks but may now give way to phase two earlier. In the first phase, schools will gradually restart, and more Singaporeans will return to workplaces, though dining in will still not be allowed.

Almost the entire economy is expected to reopen in phase two. Retail shops and consumer services can open for business, but masks will still be compulsory for anyone stepping outside his home.

Eateries will reopen but no more than five diners will be allowed per table at food and beverage outlets, including hawker centres. Tables will have to be placed at least 1m apart.

Mr Wong said people will be able to catch up with their friends and relatives, but social gatherings will be capped at five per group. He said the number struck a "reasonable balance" between the risks involved and allowing families to meet.

Meanwhile, some activities - which involve close contact in enclosed spaces - are deemed to carry higher risk of transmission and may be allowed to resume only later in phase two, when sufficient safety measures are in place. These include going to cinemas, religious services, bars and clubs.

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"All of these venues, based on our experience and overseas experience, have been instances where there have been cases of transmissions in such settings, and so we want to take a more cautious approach for activities in these areas to resume," said Mr Wong.

Stressing that things can change if the situation worsens, he added that the task force was sharing its plans so that businesses can start planning ahead. "But importantly, those that are looking ahead to reopen should make use of this time now to start preparing and putting in place all the necessary safeguards and precautions."

Asked if the timeline had been moved forward on account of pressure from businesses, Mr Wong said the timeline "is premised on what we think is safe to do from a public health point of view".

Meanwhile, Singapore announced a change in discharge criteria for its Covid-19 patients. Mr Gan said all those who are assessed to be clinically well by the 21st day of their illness can be discharged. Previously, they needed two negative swab tests, 24 hours apart.

As a further precaution, these patients must stay at home or in their dormitories for a further seven days.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 29, 2020, with the headline Task force fleshes out plans for next steps in reopening Singapore economy. Subscribe