SINGAPORE - There will no longer be limits to group sizes or workplace capacities here from next Tuesday (April 26), as Singapore announced a major easing of its remaining Covid-19 safety measures.
For the first time in more than two years, the Republic's disease outbreak response system condition, or Dorscon level, will also be stepped down from orange to yellow, in what Health Minister Ong Ye Kung called a major milestone in Singapore's pandemic journey. The Dorscon gives an indication of the disease outbreak situation and measures needed to control infections.
In a series of sweeping changes and the strongest push yet for a return to normal, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Friday (April 22) that from next Tuesday, individuals will no longer be required to keep to a group of 10 persons for mask-off activities, while the use of SafeEntry and TraceTogether will cease at most venues.
With the coronavirus situation largely under control, the cap on the number of unique visitors per household, previously 10 persons at any one time, will be lifted. Safe distancing will also no longer be required between individuals or between groups, said the ministry.
At the same time, the multi-ministry taskforce on Covid-19 urged Singaporeans to stay vigilant and maintain readiness in the face of potential risks, and stressed that the pandemic is not over.
Mr Ong said one such risk is of a new wave of infections emerging in the coming months as protection from vaccines and past infections wanes. Another worrying risk is of the emergence of a new variant of concern.
"This continues to be a potential curveball that may knock us back to square one, and we must be alert to that," he said.
All workers may now also return to the workplace from next Tuesday, up from the current limit of 75 per cent of those who can work from home.
Workers will also be allowed to remove their masks at the workplace when they are not interacting physically with others and when they are not in customer-facing areas. Masks are still required indoors outside of work settings.
"While this concession will provide some flexibility for workers as more return to the workplace, everyone is advised to exercise social responsibility and maintain an appropriate safe distance from others while unmasked," said MOH.
The ministry added that even with these changes, employers are encouraged to retain and promote flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting and staggered work hours, as permanent features of the workplace.
There will also be no more capacity limit for large events and settings where there are more than 1,000 participants in mask-on settings. The current limit is 75 per cent of such capacities.
From Tuesday, TraceTogether and SafeEntry check-ins will only be required at large events with more than 500 participants, at nightlife establishments which allow for dancing, and food and beverage outlets such as restaurants and hawker centres.
While F&B establishments will still require vaccination differentiated measures, the onus will be on patrons and customers to ensure they are fully vaccinated, said Mr Ong.
The ministry said that with the current changes, almost all of Singapore's safe management measures, with the exception of the wearing of masks indoors, will be inactivated.
"However, this does not mean that they become moribund, said MOH, adding that these safety management measures continue to serve as the key levers to regulate social interactions, and the parameters can be adjusted if the situation requires it.
Noting that Singapore has gone through many rounds of restrictions, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said on Friday that the changes are a "very significant step forward" in Singapore's journey to live with Covid-19.
"Two years isn't that long, but it somehow feels like a lifetime ago because so much has happened, and we have been through so much together," said Mr Wong at a press conference by the task force, which he co-chairs.
"And working together, we have been able to keep everyone in Singapore safe, to protect lives and livelihoods, and to achieve one of the lowest Covid-19 fatality rates in the world."
Singapore could not have done so without the contributions of each and every person, including its healthcare and frontline officers, and Mr Wong thanked everyone for playing their part.
"With these changes, we can now have a well-deserved breather after two very difficult years of fighting the virus. But let's always remember, we are getting closer to the finish line but the race is not over," he said.
"The pandemic is certainly not over. A new variant will emerge sooner or later….No one can predict what this next variant will be. And if need be, we may very well have to tighten our restrictions."
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.