Work from home to be default for a month from Sept 27, seniors urged to stay home amid Covid-19 surge

Work from home had been encouraged since early in the pandemic.
Work from home had been encouraged since early in the pandemic.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Working from home will be the default for employees who are able to do so as part of month-long measures to curb the current wave of Covid-19 infections, the authorities announced on Friday (Sept 24).

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said the measures will be in place from next Monday (Sept 27) to Oct 24, during which a 10-day snap work from home requirement introduced earlier this month will be suspended.

There should also continue to be no cross-deployment of workers to multiple worksites, said MOH in its statement.

Social gatherings at the workplace will continue to be disallowed.

Employers should continue to implement flexible working hours and stagger the start times of employees who need to return to the workplace, added the ministry.

The tightened workplace rules, coming amid a surge in daily Covid-19 cases, were part of a range of measures announced by the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 at a press conference on Friday.

Daily infections have increased to more than 1,000 cases in recent days.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, co-chairman of the task force, said that if daily cases continues to rise exponentially, it may reach 3,200 cases a day in the next two weeks.

"Will it happen? We don't know for sure, but it is possible and we'd better be prepared for it if we want to ride this wave successfully to emerge as a Covid-19 resilient nation on the other side," he said.

He said Singapore will start activating plans to handle 5,000 cases a day, while also "(tapping) on the brakes" to slow down the increase in cases, "to spread it out over a longer period of time... (so) that we don't get overrun by the virus".

MOH on Friday said that employees, contractors and vendors who are unable to work from home are strongly encouraged to self-test weekly using an antigen rapid test (ART).

This is to stop infected employees from turning up for work and to keep their workplaces safe.

"Those who are able to work from home but need to return to the workplace for ad-hoc reasons may do so after testing negative via ART before returning on site," said MOH.

The task force also urged everyone to reduce social activities.

MOH said the elderly and people with two or more illnesses who are more vulnerable to severe illnesses should stay home as much as possible.

Currently, up to 50 per cent of employees who are able to work from home are allowed to return to the workplace.

This has been the case since Aug 19, as Singapore transitioned out of phase two (heightened alert).

Before this, work from home was the default from May 14.

As case numbers climbed, the authorities announced new measures including a snap work-from-home regimen, which started earlier this month.

The regimen was revised on Wednesday.

Businesses had to get staff to work from home for 10 days if three or more employees working in the same premises tested positive for Covid-19 within a period of seven straight days.

Work from home had been encouraged since early in the pandemic, although there have been periods when more staff were allowed back in the office.

In March last year, with a growing number of local cases, the multi-ministry task force said employers must ensure that staff work from home as far as possible.

During the circuit breaker period from April to June last year, all business, social, and other activities that could not be conducted through telecommuting from home were suspended.

The default mode for all companies remained working from home until Sept 28 last year, when the rule was eased to allow not more than half the employees who can work from home back in the office.

This was increased to up to 75 per cent in April this year, before it returned to 50 per cent in May.

This was tightened again during two periods of phase two (heightened alert), from May to June and from July to August, when working from home again became the default arrangement.

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