SINGAPORE - Group size limits will go up to 10 persons and masks will no longer be mandatory in outdoor settings from Tuesday (March 29), as part of what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called a decisive step forward towards living with Covid-19.
Up to 75 per cent of employees who can work from home will be allowed to return to their workplaces; and capacity limits for larger events and settings with more than 1,000 people will be upped to 75 per cent as well.
In a national address on Thursday (March 24) outlining changes to safe management measures (SMMs), PM Lee announced that with the risk of outdoor transmission significantly lower, wearing masks outdoors will become optional - but remain mandatory indoors.
The permissible group size will be doubled from the current five persons to 10.
PM Lee explained that Singapore was now in a position to ease restrictions, having "reached a major milestone" in its Covid-19 journey.
He pointed to high vaccination levels - about 95 per cent of the eligible population in Singapore have completed the full vaccination regimen, and 71 per cent of the total population have received a booster shot.
The wave of cases caused by the Omicron variant has crested and is now subsiding, he added, noting that the population also has stronger immunity now with many already exposed to - and recovered from - the virus.
Covid-19 case numbers have dipped gradually from over 24,000 on March 1 to around 10,000 in recent days.
"Crucially, our healthcare system remains resilient," said PM Lee. "It was under considerable stress at the peak of the Omicron wave, but it held up. The load is still heavy, but the pressure is now easing."
He said that in judging how far and fast to ease restrictions, authorities were also mindful not to stress healthcare workers and the system to "breaking point".
"We must not place an impossible burden on the healthcare workers, and endanger many Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients who urgently need treatment," said PM Lee.
"At the same time, we must weigh the cost of stringent SMMs on businesses and the economy, and their impact on children needing to learn, youths yearning to interact, families seeking to bond, and communities striving to connect.
"Taking all things into consideration, we believe that we are now ready to take a decisive step forward towards living with Covid-19."
PM Lee earlier acknowledged that Singapore's progress in its battle against the pandemic was only achieved through collective effort of the people, with businesses and essential workers also chipping in to keep the economy and social services going.
But he reserved the most praise for healthcare workers and their "tremendous sacrifices, at a heavy personal cost".
"Pulling long shifts, day after day, week after week, since the start of the pandemic; returning to work on rest days to cover for colleagues who caught the virus; putting up with all the safety measures at the hospitals; risking exposure as you cared for infected patients," PM Lee said.
"Because of you, we have maintained some semblance of normalcy in the past two years.
"Some countries have seen mass resignations of healthcare workers. But our healthcare team, doctors and nurses stayed at their posts and kept on performing their duties," he added.
"So to our healthcare and frontline workers, from the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of a grateful nation, I want to say: Thank you!"
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.