Coronavirus: Working from home to be the norm for some time, says Chan Chun Sing

Need to stay vigilant with gradual reopening of S'pore economy after circuit breaker ends

Many have already become accustomed to using online platforms for meetings and other work activities, said Mr Chan Chun Sing. PHOTO: ST FILE

Working from home will continue to be the norm even as circuit breaker measures are eased, said Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing yesterday as he laid out Singapore's strategy for gradually reopening its economy.

Speaking to reporters during a virtual press conference, Mr Chan said that even as Singapore opens up, it must maintain its vigilance and have measures to quickly contain the situation should there be another wave in the Covid-19 outbreak.

"Our working assumption beyond the circuit breaker period must be this - that we need to continue to maintain our vigilance because if there's any lapse in our focus, then we might risk a relapse of the situation or a flare-up," he said. "As we progressively reopen up our economy, we need to be able to detect quickly and isolate effectively."

Part of that strategy thus means that those who are able to work from home should do so for the foreseeable future, Mr Chan said. He noted that on-site work activities had already been reduced to about 30 per cent prior to the circuit breaker, which began on April 7. Currently, about 17 per cent of Singapore's workforce commute to work as they are in essential services.

For sectors like manufacturing where working from home is not an option, companies will need to put in place what Mr Chan called "safe working environment measures". These include having safe distancing at rest areas, making sure different cohorts do not mix, using technology for contact tracing and doing testing for higher-risk groups.

"We are going to encourage our companies, starting from now, to prepare ourselves for the resumption," he said.

He added that companies will also need to advise workers from different cohorts and shifts not to mix outside work so that groups can be quickly isolated if needed. The various measures also apply to companies hiring foreign workers.

There will also need to be higher hygiene and cleanliness standards.

"With these safe working environment measures and safe cohorting measures in place, we think we'll be able to progressively restart many of the production activities that have taken a back seat for the last two weeks," he said.

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Mr Chan's comments come a day after the Government laid out plans to ease some of the tighter restrictions put in place during Singapore's circuit breaker.

These measures - due to have ended today - will continue for another week, with some businesses then progressively opening from May 12.

Sectors that allow Singapore to trade with the world and access critical supplies will progressively restart first, said Mr Chan, noting that the Government is looking at help schemes for sectors that will reopen later.

"We will not be able to open some of the social entertainment outlets, but we are focused on our manufacturing capacities and production capabilities. First, we will make sure that we maintain the connectivity for all our air, land and sea links, not just for Singapore but for the region and the global supply chains," he said.

While there is no timeline for when the economy will return to full capacity, "if we can continue to sustain very low numbers in the community spread, it will give us greater confidence to progressively open up more sectors to recover as near to full capacity as we possibly can", he said.

Yesterday, Singapore reported 657 new Covid-19 cases, of whom 10 were Singaporeans and permanent residents.

Mr Chan also stressed that the resumption of economic activity and on-site activities is not based on predetermined quotas.

"We are not focused on the numbers. We are taking a conditions-and outcomes-based approach to this," he said.

"We encourage companies to start preparing now, and once the conditions are met, the Economic Development Board, Enterprise Singapore and the rest of the economic agencies will be able to work with them to restart their operations."

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The article has been edited for clarity.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: Working from home to be the norm for some time, says Chan Chun Sing. Subscribe