Coronavirus: Workers must work from home as far as possible, says MOM

Ministry considers increasing penalties for firms which avoid telecommuting option

PROTECTING THE ELDERLY: Singaporeans who are unwell have been urged to avoid visiting seniors, as the elderly have shown a higher risk of developing serious conditions when infected. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG SEE TOP OF THE NEWS A4
PROTECTING THE ELDERLY: Singaporeans who are unwell have been urged to avoid visiting seniors, as the elderly have shown a higher risk of developing serious conditions when infected. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Employers must ensure that staff members work from home as far as possible, said the multi-ministry task force handling the coronavirus outbreak, as it turned its attention to securing workplaces.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said her ministry is looking to increase potential penalties - including stop-work orders and fines - for firms which avoid implementing telecommuting. "Employers must allow your employees to work from home as far as reasonably practicable. This applies to all workplaces regardless of size, and it should be for all times, all days, and not some times, some days," she said at a virtual media conference - the first such briefing by the task force.

The Manpower Ministry estimates that only 40 per cent of workers in the Central Business District currently work from home.

The new measures on workplaces came as the task force noted the worrying trend of increasing local cases and stressed the importance of safe distancing to protect vulnerable groups like seniors, who are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill when they are infected.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced 47 new cases. Of these, 31 were local cases, with the rest imported. To date, there have been 926 confirmed cases here.

Among the linked cases, certain patterns have emerged, said MOH director of medical services Kenneth Mak. Many were linked by activities, including social gatherings, workplaces or being members of the same household, he said.

While making it clear the Government was taking a firm stand on the need for companies to implement telecommuting - which would ease the potential spread in workplaces and lower the number of people on public transport - Mrs Teo reassured firms that a "measured approach" will be taken when it comes to punishment meted out.

"It is not our intention to simply issue a stop-work order without considering the circumstances of the companies," she said. "We are looking for evidence that the companies have made serious attempts to implement stay-at-home telecommuting arrangements, but we are also mindful that this is not always possible."

At yesterday's media conference, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who co-chair the task force, also reiterated the need for Singaporeans to observe safe distancing measures, especially to protect vulnerable groups.

People should wash their hands before interacting with the elderly. If ill, they should not visit seniors, the ministers said.

SAFE DISTANCING IMPORTANT

That is why we come back to the importance of safe distancing measures, and this is why every Singaporean must do their part to help in this endeavour to slow down the spread.

NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT MINISTER LAWRENCE WONG


DANGER TO SENIORS

If you are not well, please desist from visiting (seniors) and exposing them unduly to infection. It is important for us to take reasonable measures to protect our seniors.

MOH DIRECTOR OF MEDICAL SERVICES KENNETH MAK

The elderly have shown a higher risk of developing serious conditions when infected. Mr Wong also addressed drastic suggestions such as locking down the country for two weeks, saying there was no magic solution. Singapore was in it for the long haul, he said.

Separately yesterday, the World Health Organisation (WHO) also warned that the Asia-Pacific region faces a long battle. Dr Takeshi Kasai, WHO's regional director for the Western Pacific, said: "It is unlikely this virus will disappear next week or even next month."

Even nations like Singapore, South Korea and China that have been gaining ground must not let their guard down, he added, or the "virus will come surging back".

The World Bank, meanwhile, said the pandemic could stop between 24 million and 35 million people in East Asia and the Pacific from escaping poverty.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 01, 2020, with the headline 'Workers must work from home as far as possible, says MOM'. Subscribe