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Singapore must have a system in place to reopen safely

04 May 2020 3 min read

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The Government will consider a number of factors when making a decision to ease the circuit breaker measures, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

In his ministerial statement to Parliament on 4 May 2020, Mr Gan listed three points: the number of cases, the global situation and whether there is a system to allow Singapore to open up safely.

Mr Gan stressed that the Government needs to be assured that community transmission locally is stemmed, or very low.

“Community cases should ideally fall to zero or single-digits daily, with very low numbers of unlinked cases, not just for one day, but sustained over a period of time,” he said. This also applies to the number of migrant worker cases.

On the global situation, Mr Gan said the Government would review the rate of transmissions in other countries and what they have done to contain the spread. The reopening of Singapore’s borders is likely to start small and selectively, he added. Singapore will also continue to impose a mix of isolation and test requirements to protect itself from new imported cases that may lead to community spread.

Mr Gan also reiterated that Singapore must have a system in place to open up safely. “We need to step up our capability and capacity to test and detect cases early, contact trace quickly, promptly ringfence close contacts, and establish the original source of the infection to stop other undetected transmission chains, if any,” he said

These key enablers, Mr Gan said, will give Singapore and Singaporeans the confidence to reopen.

Singapore to ramp up testing capacity

On Singapore’s testing capacity, Mr Gan revealed that Singapore has conducted more than 140,000 tests for COVID-19, or 2,500 tests per 100,000 people in Singapore. This is among the highest testing rates in the world.

Nonetheless, Mr Gan said Singapore will ramp up its capacity and that authorities are working with private and public sector partners to increase the testing capacity to up to 40,000 a day by later this year.

In the fight against COVID-19, Mr Gan emphasised that everyone can play a role, during and after the circuit breaker period. He noted that there are signs that the circuit breaker measures are working but Singapore is not out of the woods yet.

Looking ahead, Mr Gan shared that the Government is making preparations for post-June 1 – when the circuit breaker ends. He noted that Singapore will open up in a calibrated manner to avoid a second wave of outbreak.

He called on Singaporeans to adapt to a new of life and social interactions, adding: “If we all do our part, we can overcome and emerge stronger.”

Restricting movement key to slow down the pandemic

In his ministerial statement, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong emphasises that the easing of some measures over the weekend is not a signal to take it easy and go out.

He said that restricting movement is the most effective way to slow down the spread of Covid-19.

Reiterating that the battle against the virus is far from over, Mr Wong added “We cannot afford to slacken and we must stay vigilant, maintain our discipline, continue to stay home and minimise our contacts with others.”

Mr Wong also acknowledged that keeping everyone at home also has substantial social and economic costs and the impact is likely to be felt disproportionately by the lower-income and vulnerable groups. Which is why the Government considered made careful considerations before implementing the circuit breaker and later extending it to 1 June 2020.

It was a difficult decision to make, it had to be done to break the transmission chain, and slow down the spread of the coronavirus.

Mr Wong also said that workplaces will be opened in a calibrated manner, with industries critical to the economy and local employment opening first. Sectors that attract crowd such as entertainment outlets, and also religious gatherings and services will have to wait.

“We know it’s not been easy and we really appreciate everyone’s understanding of the adjustments that have to be made to keep ourselves and our families safe during this period.”

For dining at F&B outlets, Mr Wong said the risks will also have to be assessed carefully before it resumes.

Mr Wong also highlighted that a nationwide Covid-19 testing strategy is being developed as Singapore scales up its testing capacity. Testing will be prioritised for higher risk groups including those at nursing homes and healthcare workers with high touch-points in the community.

Two key technology tools have been implemented – Safe Entry, a digital tool that logs visitors at business premises and venues, as well as the Trace Together app. The Government is also developing tools for the elderly and young who do not have smartphones.

The Government will also be reviewing its response to the pandemic, from the start, and the Government will continue to take feedback and suggestions to improve. He said, “I have no doubt that we will find many things where we could have done better, and many changes that we should make to be better prepared the next time.”

Mr Wong concluded that while the Covid-19 crisis will pass, the world will be permanently changed.

He said that Singapore will endeavour to be among the countries that will emerge from this stronger, more united, and more resilient than before.