SINGAPORE - From Oct 1, front-line workers in selected high-risk sectors - including healthcare, food and beverage, and public service - will need to be vaccinated against the coronavirus or take an antigen rapid test (ART) twice a week.
These tests will be subsidised only if the unvaccinated worker is medically ineligible for Covid-19 vaccines.
This is part of a new "vaccinate or regular test" regime, which the Ministry of Health (MOH) said has three aims - to expand Singapore's vaccine coverage even further, to pick up infections early, and to mitigate the risk of transmission.
MOH said on Friday (Aug 6) that the new regime will be introduced in three work settings.
The first is the healthcare and eldercare sectors, as well as settings with children aged 12 and below. This protects vulnerable segments of the population, MOH said.
Second, those working in sectors that involve customer interactions in higher-risk, mask-off settings will also need to be vaccinated or undergo regular testing in lieu of inoculation. These sectors include food and beverage establishments, gyms and fitness studios, and personal care services.
The requirement will also apply to those working at the border or at the Covid-19 front line.
Third, the public service will introduce this new requirement for all public officers, including those in uniformed services. More than 94 per cent of public service officers are currently vaccinated.
The new rule will take effect on Oct 1 to give time for workers in these selected sectors to get their jabs, said MOH.
From Oct 1, those who are unvaccinated will have to be tested with an ART kit twice a week. More details will be announced by the ministries overseeing these selected sectors.
Said MOH: "We strongly encourage all employers to facilitate vaccination for your employees.
"A fully vaccinated workforce ensures a safe workplace and safe environment for everyone. We will continue to closely monitor our vaccination rates and review the need to include other sectors in the future."
At a press conference on Friday, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said it is important for workers in these settings to be vaccinated as Singapore eases restrictions for vaccinated people to engage in more activities across a range of different settings.
The regular tests in lieu of vaccination will help to protect these workers, their colleagues and the people they serve in the course of their work, said Mr Wong, who is co-chairman of the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19.
Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong urged those who have not been vaccinated to do so as soon as possible.
Mr Gan, who is also co-chairman of the task force, said: "We have seen a strong take-up rate from our seniors in recent weeks. I want to thank them for stepping forward. But if your parents or grandparents have yet to be vaccinated, please continue to reach out to them and encourage them to do so."
He added: "Vaccination is the best way to keep our loved ones safe."
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said that as at Thursday, more than 78 per cent of the population have received at least their first vaccine dose and almost two-thirds are fully vaccinated.
With vaccination rates increasing by about 1 per cent a day, Mr Ong said the authorities are confident that more than 70 per cent of the population will be fully vaccinated by National Day.
Mr Ong said MOH will recognise all Covid-19 vaccines in the World Health Organisation's emergency-use list from next Tuesday, in addition to the Pfizer-BioNTech/Comirnaty and Moderna vaccines that are being used in Singapore's national vaccination programme.
The WHO's emergency-use list includes the Sinovac, Sinopharm and AstraZeneca vaccines. A person will be considered fully vaccinated two weeks after he has received the full regimen of any of these vaccines. These individuals will be eligible for the vaccination differentiated safe management measures from Aug 10.
Those who have received these vaccines will also be included in the national vaccination statistics, Mr Ong said.
In a separate statement, the Manpower Ministry, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation said that they will review the existing advisory on Covid-19 vaccination in employment settings issued last month, with a view to further drive up vaccination rates.
The advisory currently states that employers should not make Covid-19 vaccination mandatory for staff, but those in higher-risk settings may make vaccination a requirement as part of company policy.
Firms in these higher-risk settings may impose this vaccination requirement at the point of recruitment or when advertising for new hires, but they cannot fire existing staff on the grounds of declining vaccination.
Firms may also ask their workers for their vaccination status for purposes such as business continuity planning, but staff who decline vaccination should not be penalised.
The tripartite partners said they aim to issue the updated advisory by the middle of this month.