Singapore minister warns of more COVID-19 cases as economy opens up

Singapore minister warns of more COVID-19 cases as economy opens up

Singapore’s Health Minister Ong Ye Kung has warned that more people will come down with COVID-19 as the trade and financial hub opens up its economy and moves towards treating the virus as an endemic.

“Our companies cannot grow if businessmen and managers cannot travel overseas to meet clients and partners. MNCs (multinational corporations) will find it hard to invest here if their people are not able to travel in and out of Singapore,” the minister stressed.

“And if this continues, our ability to create jobs, earn a living will be seriously affected,” The Straits Times quoted Ong as saying.

Warning that more people may contract the infection as Singapore opens up its economy, Ong said people must be “psychologically prepared” for this eventuality, even as the republic embarks on its four-stage plan to reach a new normal.

“But we can do our best to minimise the incidence of severe illnesses and deaths. It is, therefore, very important that we continue to vaccinate as many people as possible,” he said.

The country will also continue differentiating among people by vaccination status, in an effort to protect the unvaccinated and limit their exposure to the virus, he added.

Starting next Tuesday, Singapore will embark on the first stage of this four-step reopening, dubbed the “preparatory stage”, according to media reports.

This phase will see some easing of travel restrictions, with Singapore resuming entry approvals for fully vaccinated work-pass holders and their dependents.

Subsequently, fully vaccinated travellers from lower-risk countries will be able to serve their stay-home notice (SHN) at home or other suitable accommodations, rather than at dedicated facilities.

The Ministry of Transport is also working on plans to open up “vaccinated travel lanes” that would allow people to travel between Singapore and select countries without having to serve an SHN.

The SHN requirement will be replaced by frequent testing, Ong said.

The “preparatory stage” is expected to last about a month, until early September. By this time, about 80 per cent of the population should have received both vaccine doses, added Finance Minister Lawrence Wong.

Wong, along with Ong and Trade and Industry Minister Gan Kim Yong, co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid.

Singapore is set to move into “transition stage A”. But this is premised on a high vaccination rate and stable overall situation, with no surges that threaten to overwhelm the healthcare system, Wong said.

In transition stage, Singapore will further increase the permitted size of events and ease border controls. Measures to control the spread of COVID-19 will then on be eased in stages.

Dining-in at F&B outlets will resume from Tuesday, only for fully vaccinated people in a group of five. The current group size for social gatherings will also be increased from two to five, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a press release on Friday.

Households will similarly be able to receive five distinct visitors per day.

However, people who are unvaccinated should remain in groups of no more than two “to reduce the likelihood of transmission and severe infection”, the Channel News Asia reported, citing the MOH release.

Unvaccinated children aged 12 and below can be included in the group of five as long as all children are from the same household, the ministry added. The announcement follows a mid-point review of Phase 2 (heightened alert) measures, with restrictions to be eased from August 10 and from August 19 if the coronavirus situation remains stable, said the MOH.

Apart from allowing dining-in for the vaccinated, measures will also be eased for this group of people for other higher-risk activities such as high-intensity sports with masks off, personal care services and larger events like marriages and worship services.

“Unvaccinated individuals with a valid negative pre-event test result or recovered individuals are of similarly lower risk, and may also join in such groups of up to five,” said the MOH.

F&B outlets may only resume dine-in services if they are able to ensure that customers are fully vaccinated. Those that are not able to do so may only operate takeaway and delivery services.

Everyone can dine in at hawker centres and coffee shops from August 10, regardless of vaccination status, but only in groups of two.

“Hawker centres and coffee shops provide convenient and affordable food services within the community. As these are open-air and naturally ventilated spaces, we will extend a special concession for both vaccinated and unvaccinated persons to dine in the hawker centres and coffee shops,” said the Health Ministry.

Event sizes and capacity limits for large events will be increased.

This includes congregational and worship services, cinemas, live performances and spectator sports.

If all attendees are fully vaccinated, up to 500 people will be allowed at such events. The limit will be increased to 1,000 from August 19 if the COVID-19 situation remains under control.

If attendees are not vaccinated, only 50 of them will be allowed without pre-event testing.

This week, Singapore reported four Covid-linked deaths.

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