Singapore Quells Virus ‘Fire’, Sees Last Phase of Curbs
Voters wearing protective masks register at a polling station in Singapore. (Photographer: WeiLeng Tay/Bloomberg)

Singapore Quells Virus ‘Fire’, Sees Last Phase of Curbs

Singapore is looking to ease up more on pandemic curbs, allowing bigger social gatherings in a further step toward normalized activity as new daily coronavirus cases dwindle near zero.

The government’s pandemic task force said phase three of its campaign may start by year-end, allowing a further easing of measures, along with stepped-up virus testing and contact-tracing controls:

  • Maximum gatherings outside the home could rise from five people to eight, with the same increase in the number of visitors allowed into homes, the Ministry of Health said in a release Tuesday.
  • Capacity limits at public venues could be increased to multiple zones of 50 persons.
    • From Nov. 1, live performances will be allowed to resume at designated venues, with up to two zones of 50 audience members.
    • Higher-risk settings like bars, karaoke lounges and nightclubs aren’t expected to reopen as activities pose a higher risk of transmission.
  • The city-state will gradually allow more travel to resume, and is exploring ways to deploy more frequent testing to let more travelers enter Singapore without needing to quarantine.
  • All residents and long-term pass holders traveling overseas can now access government subsidies and insurance coverage for their Covid-related medical bills.

“When can all of these measures take place?” Minister of Education Lawrence Wong said during a briefing by the task-force handling the pandemic crisis. “That is the big question and the answer is that it really depends on all of us.”

In addition to a pilot program for on-site testing of attendants at large-scale gatherings, the government plans to make its contact tracing technology known as TraceTogether mandatory by the end of the year for all popular venues that currently require check-in before entry.

TraceTogether will be implemented in venues with activities that involve larger groups of people from now until mid-November, and can be used via mobile application or with a government-supplied physical token. There are about 2.5 million people, or about 45% of the population, using the program currently, Wong said, adding the percentage has to be at least 70% to be effective.

“You can liken the current situation to one where a fire has just been put out, but there are still embers of the fire lying around,” the minister said. “Each time we make further relaxation of any measures, we are simply adding wood to the fire. You don’t know when, but at some point in time, the more wood you add, the whole thing will combust yet again.”

Test Trial

Singapore will trial coronavirus tests for participants in larger-scale gatherings using antigen rapid tests, or ARTs, which can return “fairly accurate” results within half an hour. While the cost of ART’s is not yet finalized, it will be cheaper than conventional PCR tests, Kenneth Mak, the health ministry’s director of medical services, said at the briefing.

Pre-event testing trials starting mid-October at business gatherings, wedding receptions, live performances and sports events will enable the Ministry of Health to identify a model that can be implemented more widely and allow more large-scale events to resume eventually, it said.

While cost of the ART’s has not yet been finalized, it will be considerably cheaper than PCR tests, Mak said.

Only participants who test negative will be allowed to participate in the event. The Singapore International Energy Week next week will be among the first business events in the pilot. The pilot is part of the government’s plans to prepare the country for phase three of its reopening, possibly by year-end.

Singapore is looking to procure various vaccines and is assessing which is most suitable, officials said at the briefing. It may start to see vaccines come into Singapore by the end of the year, but it is more realistic that phase-three trials conclude sometime next year.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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