Singapore Slows Reopening Pace on Virus Cluster Concerns
(Bloomberg) -- Singapore has decided to scale down its reopening plans amid dozens of new cases over the last week, even as some countries with similarly high rates of vaccination allow a resumption of social activities and freer travel.
The government announced that from Monday, higher-risk activities such as dining-in at restaurants and going to the gym can resume in groups of up to two people -- instead of five, as had been previously announced.
Group size will likely be increased to as many as five people from mid-July, barring any superspreader events or big clusters, officials said at a briefing.
“I would say there are two schools of thought,” said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong. “One school of thought is that we should push back the reopening to a much later date until we have cases that are near zero consistently for many days. But this is, in fact very hard to achieve, and may not even be possible to do so given how transmissible the delta variant is.”
“We do want to proceed with our reopening more confidently, but our vaccination rates currently are still not high enough to provide sufficient protection,” Wong added.
The city-state saw 14 new cases in the community on Friday, up from just four on June 10, when it announced a partial relaxation of lockdown-like restrictions that had been in place since mid-May. People were allowed to meet in social groups of five from two people on Monday, while the operating capacity of attractions, events and cruises was increased to 50% from 25%.
Work from home will continue to remain the default, the government said. The Straits Times Index closed up 0.2%.
While officials said they’re no longer aiming for infections to dwindle to zero, the decision to maintain relatively strict rules for at least another month although almost half the population has had one vaccine dose reflects a continued conservative approach to containment. It risks leaving Singapore behind as major western economies race to reopen.
Senior officials have said mass vaccination is key to allowing the Southeast Asian trade hub to more fully reopen, though they haven’t made clear what level of inoculation is required before easing will occur. Singapore is coming under growing pressure to shift away from the strict containment approach that’s helped some countries eliminate the virus, but which leaves them increasingly isolated.
Like a handful of other Covid havens that have largely eliminated local transmission of the virus, Singapore has been struggling to find a path to reopen, as the aggressive rules that allowed it to stamp out the virus increasingly become a straitjacket. Friday’s announcement signaled that the government was shifting its mindset to a more tolerant approach, but other global cities are quickly opening up at similar levels of vaccination, leaving some expatriates to question whether the city-state has been too slow.
“Once we have achieved a high level of vaccination, we will be able to further reopen our economy, adjust our border measures, and allow more community activities to resume,” said Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Trade and Industry.
The country aims to get two-thirds of residents their first dose by early July, provided supplies arrive as planned. It has boosted administering doses to 47,000 a day in June, from 40,000 last month.
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