Task force spells out steps to get to phase 3 by year end

Testing and contact tracing to be stepped up; gatherings of up to 8 may be allowed in phase 3

As part of phase three, gatherings outside homes could be increased from five to eight people.
As part of phase three, gatherings outside homes could be increased from five to eight people.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Singapore could enter the third phase of its reopening by the end of the year, provided that community cases remain low as the country steps up Covid-19 testing and contact tracing.

As part of phase three, the permitted size of gatherings outside homes could be increased from five people to eight, said the multi-ministry task force handling the pandemic.

Similarly, households could be allowed to have up to eight visitors at a time, enabling larger families to congregate.

On top of that, capacity limits in venues such as museums and places of worship and for wedding receptions may be increased, with multiple zones of 50 people permitted.

But to enter phase three, Singapore will have to keep its guard up and meet several key conditions, Education Minister and task force co-chair Lawrence Wong said yesterday, as he laid out the country's road map to the final phase of its reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic.

First, Singaporeans will still have to stick to safe management measures, including keeping to small group sizes, practising safe distancing and exercising social responsibility, such as by wearing masks.

Next, Covid-19 testing will be carried out on a larger scale to allow more activities to resume.

For starters, a pilot scheme will use a rapid test to examine people for the virus before they are allowed to attend larger-scale and higher-risk events. This pilot programme will be fine-tuned and expanded if it proves successful.

Lastly, there needs to be a higher take-up rate for the TraceTogether programme, with more venues requiring people to check in for SafeEntry via TraceTogether, to strengthen Singapore's contact tracing regime.

These measures will be implemented progressively, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who co-chairs the task force with Mr Wong.

However, nightlife settings deemed as places with higher risk - such as bars, karaoke lounges and nightclubs - are likely to stay closed even at the start of phase three.

The Health Ministry added in a separate statement that phase three will not mean a return to the pre-coronavirus world.

"It will entail new ways of working and living, until the world has the virus under tight control," it said, adding that Singaporeans have to be prepared to stay in phase three for a prolonged period, potentially more than a year. Activities could be scaled up or more may resume during this phase.

Mr Wong said the situation was like a fire that is reduced to embers but not totally extinguished. Relaxing rules adds fuel to these embers, he said, and raises the risk that the fire may flare up again.

That is why measures have to be relaxed with additional safeguards in place, such as more testing and tracking, said Mr Wong.

"When can all of these measures take place? That is the big question. And the answer is that it really depends on all of us," he said.

If the transmission rate remains low, Singapore could enter phase three before the end of this year. But if new clusters emerge, the timeline will have to be pushed back, said Mr Wong.

Mr Gan added that even when Singapore enters phase three, people must keep their guard up.

"Phase three is not a declaration of victory that we have now succeeded in overcoming Covid-19, and all of us should go around celebrating and forget about all the safe distancing measures," he said.

"Phase three is... a milestone, that we are saying that we have now put in place reasonable safe distancing measures... to protect ourselves and we should continue to maintain these safeguards."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2020, with the headline 'Task force spells out steps to get to phase 3 by year end'. Subscribe