Singapore Curbs Gatherings, Plans More Economic Assistance

Singapore will tighten restrictions on dining-in and social gatherings again and halt indoor exercise from Thursday, amid a record daily number of Covid-19 infections fueled by highly transmissible strains of the virus that are spreading across Southeast Asia.

Dining-in will be suspended and group gatherings will be cut from five people to just two through Aug. 18, authorities said at a Tuesday briefing, with the measures to be reviewed after two weeks. Singapore will also unveil a virus support package in the coming days, which Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said would “take reference” from earlier aid. A prior package cost S$1.2 billion ($878 million), funded by a reallocation of money.

Supermarkets and wet markets will be allowed to remain open, despite authorities saying there was “considerable exposure” to Covid at these venues.

Singapore Curbs Gatherings, Plans More Economic Assistance

The new restrictions, announced on the Muslim Hari Raya Haji holiday -- also known as the festival of sacrifice -- underscore Singapore’s struggle in shifting from the strict controls that have been part of its “Covid-zero” strategy toward a new normal that treats the disease as endemic.

They cast doubt on whether the city-state will be able to fulfill a pledge to reopen pegged to its vaccination drive. The island nation had planned to announce further easing of curbs in the second half of July -- when more than 50% of the population is fully vaccinated -- and again when it hits the two-thirds mark around its National Day on Aug. 9.

“Given the speed of infections, and the rate that new clusters are growing, we will need to temporarily slow down the spread of the virus to give us time to raise the coverage of our vaccination program, especially among the older population,” Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong said. “Once we have slowed down the new clusters and hit higher vaccination rates, we will be able to continue with our reopening journey.”

More than 85% of Singaporeans aged 60 to 69 have been vaccinated, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said, along with 71-72% of seniors above age 70.

The country had eased some dining-in measures only a few weeks ago and changed the way it reports on progress against Covid to focus on key trends and the number of severe virus cases while dropping detailed information about individual infections.

Singapore is carrying out 80,000 vaccinations per day, and 70-75% of those are second doses, authorities said. The country has administered a total of 6.8 million doses as of Sunday, with 48.3% of the population having received both jabs.

Singapore Curbs Gatherings, Plans More Economic Assistance

Rising Threat

The Ministry of Health on Tuesday reported 182 new locally transmitted cases, of which 135 are linked to a fishery port cluster and 12 to a cluster linked to karaoke lounges.

As cases rose last week, the government said it would temporarily close hundreds of nightlife venues and re-enforce stricter measures for dining-in, just days after it had relaxed some measures. The cases represent the biggest threat to the city-state during the pandemic since an outbreak at migrant dormitories across the island last year left tens of thousands of workers infected.

Singapore Curbs Gatherings, Plans More Economic Assistance

While more than 240 cases are currently warded in hospital, only five are considered serious and require oxygen supplementation. Just one is in critical condition in the intensive care unit, according to government data. None of the six people were fully vaccinated.

When a “much higher” percentage of the population is vaccinated, Singapore will be able to reopen even with a hundred or more daily cases, said Ong. We’ll “know we can stay safe and allow businesses to continue operating and life can go on.”

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