Singapore Pledges $2.7 Billion More, Virus Measures Extended

(Bloomberg) --

Singapore will extend its partial lockdown for a further four weeks until June 1 to “decisively” bring down coronavirus cases within the community, and will provide an additional S$3.8 billion ($2.7 billion) to support businesses that are reeling from the fallout.

Authorities will scale up testing “substantially” to quickly detect any cases that pop up amid concerns over rising unlinked cases. Singapore will close more workplaces, with only the most essential services remaining open, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a live broadcast to the nation Tuesday.

He said the extended measures will ensure the city-state has made “definite progress and consolidated” its position. “Many will be disappointed by the extension of the circuit breaker, especially our business and workers, who are hurting greatly,” Lee said, adding the city-state must press on to bring down daily infections more sharply, to single digit, or even zero.

The announcement comes two weeks after Singapore imposed so-called “circuit breaker” measures that have closed schools and most office places. Here are some of the stricter measures the government will adopt:

  • Reduce workplaces that are open from 20% to 15%
  • Hairdressing services, barber shops, some smaller snack and beverage outlets to close
  • Plans to restrict access to public hot spots such as wet markets and supermarkets to further bring down community spread
  • Migrant workers to stop going to work and stay in their dormitories

Since late March, the Southeast Asian nation has seen a surge in local transmissions that’s largely affected foreign workers housed in tightly packed dormitories, further complicating efforts to curb the spread. The government has tightened entry rules, mandated masks, poured billions of dollars into the economy and imposed a weeks-long partial lockdown to contain the outbreak.

On Tuesday, the city-state recorded 1,111 new cases of COVID-19 in Singapore, the health ministry said in a statement. This brings the total number of infections here to 9,125, and is the second day in a row where the number of new cases crossed 1,000. It recorded the largest single-day spike of 1,426 new cases on Monday.

“I hope you understand that this short-term pain is to stamp out the virus, protect the health and safety of our loved ones, and allow us to revive our economy,” Lee said.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said at a briefing Tuesday the government will waive foreign worker levies in May, and plans to extend a 75% subsidy under a job support scheme to all businesses next month too.

Foreign Workers

Foreign-worker cases now account for more than 70% of all confirmed infections. Imported cases have been cut to zero over the last several days, while daily numbers of community spread have leveled off in the last two weeks. Unlinked cases now stand at more than 450 since the start of the outbreak.

The extended measures are aimed at detecting and containing the virus spread early should “any leakage occurs from the dorms,” Lee said. It’s also to prevent new clusters from forming and spiraling out of control.

For workplaces that remain open, employers must put in place effective measures to avoid transmission of the coronavirus at and across premises. These include not allowing teams working in different locations to interact physically with one another, implementing safe distancing measures at every premise, and ensuring workers wear masks, according to the health ministry in a statement on Tuesday.

Unlinked cases

Lee said the rising unlinked cases are a concern and there’s a need to reduce them. These are cases where authorities do not know how they got infected or from whom.

“Unfortunately that number has not come down and this suggests there is a larger, hidden reservoir of cases in the community, that is the source of these unlinked cases, which we have not detected,” Lee said.

The coronavirus pandemic could last more than a year before effective treatments and vaccines become available. For Singapore to exit from the restrictive measures, it needs to “open up incrementally, in small steps, making sure that we are safe each step of the way,” according to Lee.

Ramping up testing is also a priority now. To do that, Singapore is not only procuring test kits and equipment from other countries, but also by developing and manufacturing our own test kits. As of April 14, the nation has tested 94,796 people and has a testing rate of about 16,600 swabs per million.

Singapore will only make “full use” of information technology so that when it discovers coronavirus cases, it can trace more efficiently where the individuals have been and whom they have been in contact with. “There will be some privacy concerns, but we will have to weigh these against the benefits of being able to exit from the circuit breaker and stay open safely,” Lee added.

“I know this has not been an easy time for everyone. We are making progress, but we have not yet succeeded”, he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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