Indoor mask requirements to stay, no plans to relax Covid-19 rules: MOH

Wearing masks in public spaces was made compulsory in April 2020.
PHOTO: The Straits Times file

SINGAPORE - There are no plans for now to relax Covid-19 rules, including the requirement that people wear a mask indoors, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).

In response to queries, MOH on Thursday (Aug 11) said existing safe management measures will continue to stay in place, even as the latest wave of infections has passed its peak.

An MOH spokesman said: "Cases are falling but remain high and pose risks. The Ministry of Health will continue to calibrate measures depending on the situation."

On Thursday, 7,776 new Covid-19 cases were reported, down from a high of 16,870 on July 13, in cases largely fuelled by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron variants.

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung - who early last month said the current wave was "near the peak, if not at the peak" - on Aug 1 said infection numbers had fallen and were likely to subside further.

MOH was responding to queries on whether there were plans to relax existing Covid-19 rules, including the rule that people wear a mask indoors in places like shopping malls and on public transport.

While most safe management measures have been eased, patrons of bars and nightlife establishments with dancing, for instance, are required to be fully vaccinated.

Events with more than 500 participants, such as worship services and live performances, also require everyone who is attending to be fully vaccinated.

Some experts in Singapore have recently suggested that there is no need to continue enforcing mandatory mask-wearing indoors.

Associate Professor Alex Cook, who is the vice-dean of research at the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, had questioned the benefits of this.

"With over 90 per cent of the population vaccinated and over half the population infected, there is little reason to contain the virus. There is no need to continue mandatory mask-wearing," he said.

His colleague at the school, Associate Professor Natasha Howard, said the benefits of the continued requirement for indoor mask-wearing are "minimal".

But Prof Cook said wearing masks reduced the risk of transmission among those who were infectious but asymptomatic, and that those infected by Covid-19 should continue to wear masks while interacting with others.

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Wearing masks in public spaces was made compulsory in April 2020, during Singapore's "circuit breaker" period aimed at stopping the spread of Covid-19.

In March this year, wearing a mask outdoors was made optional as a raft of pandemic restrictions were lifted. But the rule on using masks indoors remained.

Around the world, countries experiencing a spike in Covid-19 cases are once again encouraging people to wear masks.

In Australia, the authorities in Victoria on Tuesday said free N95 masks will be give out over the next few weeks amid the current Omicron wave.

In the south-east Australian state, mask wearing is required on public transport and in hospitals and aged care facilities, and is recommended in other indoor settings.

In the Indian capital of New Delhi, the authorities on Thursday said masks would again be required in all public areas, including outdoor settings, after Covid-19 infections spiked in recent weeks.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.