Saturday, 4 April 2020

COVID-19 circuit breaker: Singapore to shut workplaces and schools to curb spike in coronavirus cases

Stricter measures to act as 'circuit breaker' and will run from 7 April to 4 May 2020

Singapore schools to shift to full home-based learning from 8 April to 4 May 2020

Govt will no longer discourage wearing of masks, to give reusable masks to all households



All supermarkets, wet markets, hawker centres and food establishments will remain open

No more dining in at hawker centres, coffee shops, restaurants and other F&B outlets, says MTI

Public swimming pools, country clubs, gyms, fitness studios to close for a month

DPM Heng Swee Keat to unveil additional support measures next week
By Danson Cheong and Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2020

Singapore will shut down all schools and most workplaces, and severely limit social interactions and movement outside homes from next week as it puts in place a "circuit breaker" to stem the spike in local coronavirus cases.

Announcing this yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong added that the Government will no longer discourage people from wearing masks, and will distribute reusable ones to all households, as there is now some evidence of asymptomatic transmission of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The message from PM Lee and other government leaders to Singapore residents was clear - stay at home as far as possible.

This will help keep contact to a minimum, and within the immediate household. For those who need to go out for something essential and cannot avoid crowds, they should wear a reusable mask.

In his address to the nation, PM Lee explained the stricter measures, pointing out that while the outbreak remains under control, Singapore has seen more than 50 cases daily over the past two weeks despite its best efforts to curb the spread of the virus.

Yesterday, 3 April, there were 65 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, taking the total to 1,114. The country also saw its fifth death from the coronavirus, an 86-year-old nursing home resident.



PM Lee said: "Looking at the trend, I am worried that unless we take further steps, things will gradually get worse, or another big cluster may push things over the edge."

Following discussions with the multi-ministry task force, the Government was moving decisively to "pre-empt escalating infections", instead of tightening restrictions incrementally over a few weeks.

"We will therefore impose significantly stricter measures. This is like a circuit breaker," PM Lee said in his address, his third so far on COVID-19.

"It will help reduce the risk of a big outbreak occurring, and it should also help to gradually bring our numbers down. This, in turn, will allow us to relax some of the measures. This circuit breaker will apply for one month, in the first instance."

This period will span two incubation cycles of the virus, from April 7 until May 4.



Except for those in key economic sectors and essential services - such as food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services - all other work premises will close in that period.

All other business activities that cannot be conducted by working from home have to be suspended, the Manpower Ministry said later.



Food establishments, which include restaurants, hawker centres foodcourts and coffee shops, will stay open for takeaways, but dining in will not be allowed.

Sports and recreation facilities, such as public swimming pools, country clubs, gyms and fitness studios, will also be shut, along with all recreational facilities in hotels.



All schools and institutes of higher learning will also close and move to full home-based learning from Wednesday to May 4, after schools piloted one day of home-based learning this week.

Pre-schools and student care services will also be closed, but will provide "limited services for children of parents who have to continue working", PM Lee said.

At a media conference later, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who is co-chair of the task force, said this "major circuit breaker" is meant to try and break the chain of transmission and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.

"The key advice for Singaporeans is to stay home. Go out only for essential services, and if you need to go out, avoid close contact with crowds or with people. If it is not possible to avoid close contact, wearing a reusable mask will be helpful," said Mr Gan.



Acknowledging the severe impact the measures will have on workers and businesses, PM Lee said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat will announce additional support for households and businesses in Parliament on Monday, "over and above what was provided in the two earlier Budgets".

The next few weeks will be pivotal, PM Lee stressed, noting that the number of cases will quite likely still go up in the next few days.



"It will be a long fight. But if any country can see this through, it is Singapore. We have the resources. We have the determination. We are united. By helping one another through this, we will prevail, and emerge stronger," he said.
























More help on the way for businesses, workers and families: DPM Heng Swee Keat
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2020

Additional support for businesses, workers and families will be announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat next week, when Parliament sits from Monday.

This will be "over and above" what have been provided in both Budget 2020 and the supplementary budget announced earlier, he said in a Facebook post yesterday.

The new support measures will "help businesses retain their capacity and their workers, so that they can resume activities once the circuit breaker is lifted", he said, referring to the stricter measures announced earlier in the day.

"We will also give additional support to households and vulnerable groups," added DPM Heng, who is also the Finance Minister.

The aid for these various groups will help tide them through the weeks ahead, up to at least a month, he said.



DPM Heng's Facebook post elaborated on some of the measures announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday in an address to the nation. These "circuit breaker" measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Singapore include a shutdown of most workplaces and schools.

PM Lee acknowledged the measures will severely impact businesses and workers. "This is already a very difficult time for them. We will help them come through this," he said in his address.



Expressing the same sentiments, DPM Heng said businesses have also felt the pain of the earlier safe-distancing measures. "These are already trying times, and the additional measures will add to their burden. Workers are also worried about their jobs and their livelihoods. I understand your anxieties," he added.

Next week, legislation will also be introduced in Parliament to require landlords to pass on property tax rebates in full to their tenants.

In addition, new temporary legislation will be proposed to let businesses and individuals defer certain contractual obligations for a period, including on paying rent and loans as well as meeting work deadlines.



Yesterday, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee also gave an update on the Temporary Relief Fund, which will give a one-time cash grant of $500 to those who have lost their jobs or income because of the coronavirus outbreak.



More than 60,000 applications for the Temporary Relief Fund have been submitted since applications opened on Wednesday. Applications can be made till the end of the month.





We are not in Dorscon Red, says Health Minister Gan Kim Yong
Alert level not raised as situation can still be contained
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2020

While Singapore has announced more severe restrictions on movements and social interactions, it is not in "Dorscon red" yet as the COVID-19 situation can still be contained, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

Mr Gan, who co-chairs a multi-ministry task force tackling COVID-19, was referring to the highest alert level on the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon), which indicates the severity of the coronavirus outbreak here.



Singapore remains in "orange", the second-highest alert level, because the outbreak has not reached an uncontrollable phase and contact tracing is still possible, Mr Gan said, when asked at a media conference about what would constitute "Dorscon red" and a lockdown.

"Under Dorscon red, we would have to expect to see many uncontrollable outbreaks and widespread community transmission, and it would be very difficult to continue to do contact tracing, containment and quarantine. We would have to rely purely on safe distancing," he said.

Singapore is not at that stage yet, and remains "quite a distance from Dorscon red" because it has not yet given up on containment and quarantine, he added.

"We are in fact doing the opposite - we are stepping up our capacity in order for us to do contact tracing, to as far as possible ringfence the transmission to contain it, so as to reduce the number of new cases and unlinked cases gradually," he said.

The Health Ministry's director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, said that while there had been an increase in community transmission compared with a month ago, the COVID-19 situation could still potentially be controlled. "Therefore, we are not making any plans at this stage to move to Dorscon red," said Prof Mak.

Singapore yesterday announced measures to close most workplaces and all schools from next week as part of curbs on all gatherings outside homes.

Responding to whether this constituted a lockdown, task force co-chair and Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said the phrase meant different things to different people.



"So, rather than use the phrase 'lockdown', which means different things to different people, let's focus on the specific measures," he said. "What we are doing is a significant tightening on top of what we had just introduced last week because we think this is necessary."

He pointed out that the Government was "not shutting down the economy", and that essential businesses would continue.

"We are not stopping people from going out if they really need to for work, where it is essential, or to get food, groceries or even to exercise," Mr Wong added.

But he also warned people against gathering outside, saying that enforcement agencies would be watching this closely.

"We call on everyone to cooperate, to work with us and to show in this time of crisis that Singaporeans can be resilient, can be united, and we all can be disciplined in doing what is necessary to protect ourselves and save lives," he said.










Coronavirus: PM Lee, ministers drive home need to take social distancing very seriously
More safe distancing ambassadors being appointed and people urged to cooperate
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2020

A key message that Singapore's leaders sought to drive home yesterday was the need for people to strictly observe social distancing.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the intent behind the stricter measures that he announced in a national address yesterday was for people to minimise physical contact.

"If we do not go out, if we avoid contact with others, then the virus will not be able to spread. It is as simple as that," he said.

He acknowledged that observing safe distancing can be hard at places like hawker centres and wet markets, especially on crowded weekends. "It will help if we all adjust our habits," he said, citing going to the market on weekdays as an example.

The Government is deploying more safe distancing ambassadors to ask people not to crowd together, he said, urging Singaporeans to cooperate with them.

Safe distancing is also hard for a psychological and emotional reason, as it goes very much against human instinct, added PM Lee.

"It is in our nature to want to socialise, to be close to those we are talking to, to take comfort in the warmth and company of friends and family," he said.

Nevertheless, social distancing still needs to be taken "extremely seriously" in this period as it is the only effective way to slow the transmission of the virus and gradually bring the number of cases down, he said. It is also the best way to keep families safe, particularly seniors.

"So please bear with the painful adjustments that we have to make. Each and every one of us can and must do our part to keep everyone in Singapore safe from COVID-19."


At a press conference after PM Lee's address, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong also stressed the importance of staying at home, and going out only for essential tasks.

The two ministers, who co-chair the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force, elaborated on the measures, which include restricting all unnecessary movement and stopping dining-in options at eateries.

Mr Gan said the Government understands that the new measures will create inconveniences. "We will have to change our habits and our daily routines. These measures are important and necessary to protect Singaporeans and keep us and our family members safe," he said.



Mr Wong called on all Singapore residents to cooperate with the more stringent safe distancing restrictions.

"We call on everyone to cooperate, to work with us, and to show in this time of crisis that Singaporeans can be resilient, can be united, and we all can be disciplined in doing what is necessary to protect ourselves and save lives," he said.



The fight against the coronavirus comes down to a national effort, the minister added.

"This is no longer the work of Government alone, it's no longer the work of contact tracers alone. All of us must now do our part to slow down the spread of the virus," he said.



































Firms should let staff work from home while still operating, says Chan Chun Sing
Measures to curb virus spread aimed at closing premises, not businesses
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2020

Companies that can operate with all their employees working from home should continue to do so, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday, stressing that the stringent measures announced to contain the coronavirus outbreak are meant to close premises, not businesses.

"Our measures are aimed at minimising transmission at workplaces and significantly reducing the need to commute to and from our workplaces," he said at a press conference after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's address announcing that only the workplaces of those considered essential services or key economic sectors will be allowed to open from next Tuesday.

"I want to emphasise that this is not about business closure. This is about closing the premises for the duration in order for us to adopt the enhanced safe-distancing measures," said Mr Chan. "This distinction is important because many businesses will still be able to operate."



Under the new rules, food establishments - including wet markets, hawker centres, foodcourts and restaurants - will remain open from next Tuesday.

Exemptions will also be made for businesses that are part of the food supply chain, such as importers, cold store operators, food safety testers and food manufacturers.

Other stores that will remain open are those needed to support people's daily living needs, such as supermarkets and pharmacies.

For the others, closures are planned to last till May 4, though they may be extended if necessary.

The Manpower Ministry said the requirement for companies to implement work from home arrangements over the past week has already resulted in significantly lower human traffic in the business districts. And it noted that many companies were able to adjust to operating with a remote workforce.

It advised employers to use the next few days to plan and carry out duties or tasks that must be performed at the workplace premises, noting that it will begin enforcement operations from next Tuesday. It added that employers should work out clear salary and leave arrangements for employees who cannot work from home or at their workplace premises.

Such arrangements should be based on the principle of shared responsibility and take into consideration the government support for wages and any subsidies for training, it said.

In a separate statement, the Health Ministry said the public service will be fully operational and government services will continue to be available, although most public servants will telecommute.

Physical counter services will be scaled down and the number of staff manning these counters will also be reduced. The list of essential services allowed to operate from next Tuesday can be found at this website.



















Govt to support those hit by workplace closures: Manpower Minister Josephine Teo
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2020

Workers should not worry if their workplaces are closed as the Government will help to make sure they continue to get paid, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo yesterday.

She gave this assurance at a press conference after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced that most workplaces would need to close for a month from next Tuesday, apart from those in key economic sectors and essential services, as part of sweeping measures to curb the spike in coronavirus cases here.

Mrs Teo said that if a business is still operating fully, its employees should continue to get paid.

"But there are also instances where business operations must be reduced or ceased," she noted.



To address this issue, the ministries of Trade and Industry, Manpower and Finance are working closely to enhance the Jobs Support Scheme, she said, adding that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat will share details next week.

First announced by Mr Heng in February's Budget speech, the scheme subsidises a share of the wages paid to local workers, to help companies retain them.

After the scheme was enhanced under the supplementary budget last month, firms will get wage subsidies of between 25 per cent and 75 per cent, depending on the sector, up from 8 per cent previously.

The support will apply to the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages per local employee, up from the original $3,600.

The duration of the help was also increased from three months to nine months, till the end of the year.



Mrs Teo said the Government will also consider waiving foreign worker levies so that businesses can retain some of these workers and restart smoothly.

"In the past, the Government has said 'no' to waiving foreign worker levies. But the next four weeks are exceptional, so we will look into it," said Mrs Teo, referring to how the latest social distancing measures will be in place till May 4.

The Government will consider if employers need temporary help to ensure they have "the essential workforce to restart", she said.

"We appreciate that employers and workers will be making many adjustments. Quite a few have already made the switch for their staff to work from home," she added.

For other employers, the Government will do whatever it can to support them as they figure out how to respond to the changing situation, she said.



A top priority is for employers to communicate properly and clearly with employees on work arrangements for the next few weeks, said Mrs Teo, as well as how colleagues can keep in touch with one another to provide mutual support.

"We hope employers can focus on that," she said.

Employers who need to clarify anything can call the Manpower Ministry on 6438-5122, which will be kept open through the weekend.

























Coronavirus: Supply lines intact, supermarkets and shops remain open, says Chan Chun Sing
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2020

Singapore's supply lines are intact and will continue to function smoothly, so there is no need to rush to the supermarkets, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing yesterday.

"We can continue to purchase our essentials and groceries as usual during this period," he said. "Supermarkets will continue to operate at their usual hours."



Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in an address to the nation that all workplaces will close from next Tuesday until May 4 to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

The only exceptions are for businesses that provide essential services or are considered to be in key economic sectors. These include food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services.

But in the morning, before PM Lee delivered his address, long lines were seen at supermarkets across Singapore as people stocked up on items such as eggs, instant noodles and canned goods.

Speaking at a press conference following PM Lee's address, Mr Chan urged Singaporeans to purchase responsibly and consider those who are more vulnerable.

"There is no need to rush to the supermarkets to stock up, as this will only cause disruption to our logistics system," he said. "If we don't run on the supermarkets, we will be able to get all our supplies as per normal, and the stock and shelves will be progressively restocked as usual."



All food establishments, including hawker centres, foodcourts and restaurants, can remain open from Tuesday, but only for takeaways and delivery orders.

Customers will no longer be allowed to dine in.

With more expected to take away food, Mr Chan encouraged Singaporeans to bring their own containers to help food establishments conserve packaging material.



In a separate statement, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said people should keep a safe distance from others when visiting wet markets and hawker centres, and follow queue markings where possible.

It will be conducting a trial at Serangoon Garden Market today to see how crowds can be managed in such settings. During the trial, the market's entry and exit points will be controlled to prevent overcrowding.

"The NEA will evaluate the effectiveness of this trial and monitor feedback before deciding if this trial would be extended to other markets," it said.

At the press conference, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong acknowledged that the latest changes are "painful, difficult measures that will bring about inconvenience and disruption to people's lives and livelihoods".

"We hope Singaporeans will understand why these are necessary to protect ourselves, our family members and our fellow citizens," he said. "It is absolutely critical that we take the measures seriously."

























School lessons to go virtual, mid-year exams scrapped: Education Minister Ong Ye Kung
School closures to last until at least May 4; national exams to proceed with precautions
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2020

All schools and institutes of higher learning will close from next Wednesday, 8 April, and lessons will go virtual, as Singapore steps up measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.

This will last until at least May 4.

Mid-year examinations will also be scrapped this year to reduce anxiety for students, said Education Minister Ong Ye Kung yesterday.



But national exams will take place as they are essential, he said during a press conference of the multi-ministry task force fighting the coronavirus. This includes oral and written mother tongue language exams on June 1 and 2, which will proceed with safe distancing measures in place.

Students have already gone through a day of home-based learning this week, with primary school pupils doing so on Wednesday, secondary school students on Thursday and junior college and Millennia Institute students yesterday.

Schools will remain open for a small group of students whose families do not have alternative care arrangements or home support. Based on estimates, each school could have between 10 and 50 students who fall in this group.

Mr Ong said the Education Ministry will monitor the situation for year-end exams, like the Primary School Leaving Examination and O levels, and make necessary adjustments. For example, if curriculum teaching is compromised, some topics can be taken out of the exam papers. Marking can also be adjusted to be more lenient in such cases.

Lessons and exams in autonomous universities will also move completely online, Mr Ong said. Private education institutions should move to home-based learning or suspend classes otherwise.

He added: "The current situation requiring online and home-based learning is far from ideal.

"We know that education is holistic. It is really not just about covering the curriculum - that is the easy part. Education is a social process and a social journey. But we must make the best of it, given the current situation we are in."



Parents told The Straits Times they understood the need for schools to close at this point to stem further community transmission of the coronavirus. Those working said they hope employers will be more understanding of their situation in the weeks ahead.

A parent who wanted to be known only as Madam Tan said she took leave on Wednesday to supervise her children's lessons at home.

"I was told to take childcare leave for this week because I was not on the team that was working from home, but I cannot be taking leave all the time," said the 40-year-old communications manager.

Her Primary 4 daughter and Primary 6 son, who attend different schools, also had trouble logging on to the online learning platform that day. It took them about three hours to do so. "Based on the first week's experience, primary school kids definitely need supervision," she said.

Madam Eunice Tay, 43, said parents with Primary 6 children like herself are concerned about learning being disrupted in a critical school year. "We're worried the kids can't grasp new concepts through online lessons, which may not be as efficient as face-to-face lessons," said the entrepreneur who has a daughter in Primary 4 and a son in Primary 6. "But this is a worldwide crisis and I think we just have to do our best."

Expecting schools to close, she quickly fixed an extra router point in her home last week. "We need the Wi-Fi signal to be stronger for everyone because I will also need to do work at home," she said.

Business manager Frederick Chong, 47, said his Primary 5 and Secondary 3 sons are happy they do not have to go to school.

"But for us as parents this is probably going to be a challenge. It's going to be a very long month ahead," he said. "I take my hat off to all the teachers. They have done a good job to make sure lessons are interactive and the kids are engaged even when they are not physically present."

Additional reporting by Rei Kurohi








































Takeaway only at food outlets from Tuesday, 7 April 2020
No more dining in at hawker centres, coffee shops, restaurants and other F&B outlets, says MTI
By Toh Ting Wei, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2020

From Tuesday, people can no longer dine in at food and beverage outlets, including hawker centres and coffee shops, but they can still buy takeaways, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing announced yesterday.

"For food establishments, hawker centres and coffee shops, the only change is no more dine-in. Takeaways will continue," Mr Chan said.

"I would like to encourage all to bring our clean containers where possible to help reduce the amount of packaging used and be more environmentally sustainable."

While a widespread suspension of activities at workplaces has been announced, services deemed to be essential, such as food and beverage outlets, are allowed to remain open.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said in a statement that all food and beverage outlets can also offer delivery services, on top of operating on a takeaway basis.

The measures are to reduce interactions outside of the household, MTI said.

For now, the new rule will apply until May 4.

"While patrons and delivery drivers can continue to enter the premises to access takeaway services, there will be no dine-in service, and nobody should consume any food or drinks on-site whilst waiting for takeaway food," said MTI.

"F&B outlets that remain open must adhere to the enhanced safe distancing measures in their premises, and minimise crowds by ensuring patrons are spaced at least 1m apart at all times."

During a news conference explaining the updated measures, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the COVID-19 outbreak, said people should head home after running their errands.



They should not sit around at hawker centres to mingle in groups.

"So, that is the key thing that we will be watching out for, and we will have enforcement agencies out and about, watching out for people who continue to gather in groups," said Mr Wong.

"If there are people who continue to breach these rules, then indeed enforcement action will be taken," he warned.

The National Environment Agency (NEA), which manages hawker centres here, said patrons and visitors buying their takeaway orders should maintain a 1m separation from any other persons in the hawker centre. They should also follow floor queue markings in front of the hawker stalls where available, said NEA. It also said that all 83 markets managed by NEA or NEA-appointed operators will continue to be open to the public.

"Patrons who are feeling unwell or are sick should refrain from going to the markets and hawker centres," NEA added. "We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and may implement further measures for crowd control."















Singapore Govt will no longer discourage wearing of masks, to give reusable masks to all households
Evidence shows some virus cases display no symptoms; households to get reusable masks
By Toh Ting Wei, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2020

As recent studies suggest that some people can be infected but not show any symptoms, the Government will no longer discourage people who are well from wearing masks.

The move also comes in the wake of the review by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United States' Centres for Disease Control and Prevention of their stance on the issue of face masks, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday, as he announced that the Government will distribute reusable masks to all households from tomorrow.

Explaining the new approach to the wearing of masks, PM Lee said: "We now think there are some cases out there in the community going undetected, though probably still not that many.



"We also now have evidence that an infected person can show no symptoms, and yet still pass on the virus to others... Therefore, we will no longer discourage people from wearing masks."

The wearing of a mask may also help to protect others, in case a person has the virus but does not know it, he added.

Hence, the Government will distribute reusable masks to all households, with surgical masks still being conserved for people who really need them, like healthcare workers.

"But remember, mask or no mask, you still need to wash your hands and keep a safe distance away from other people," PM Lee added.



On Singapore's previous policy to encourage only those who are unwell to wear masks, PM Lee said it was based on scientific advice and guidelines from the WHO.

"We also did not have community spread in Singapore then, so it was very unlikely for you to run into anyone with COVID-19 on the street, much less be infected by them."

The Ministry of Health said in a statement that it will distribute reusable masks to all residents with registered home addresses.



The distribution will take place progressively from tomorrow to April 12, and collection points will be set up at designated community clubs/centres and residents' committee centres.

Residents will be informed of the collection details via notice boards at their lift lobbies and precincts.



At a news conference following PM Lee's address, Minister for Trade and Industry Chan Chun Sing said every Singapore resident will get a reusable mask.

He said the masks should be washed and dried properly after use, adding that volunteers will help to provide guidelines on usage to those collecting the masks.

"All of us should try to stay at home," Mr Chan added.

"If we need to go out to buy essentials or to work, and will be in contact with others, we may use the reusable masks to minimise the risks to ourselves and each other."






























Surgical masks being conserved for healthcare workers, says PM Lee Hsien Loong
By Toh Ting Wei, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2020

Singapore will conserve surgical masks for healthcare workers even as it revises its stance on wearing face masks amid the COVID-19 outbreak, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

"We still want to conserve surgical masks for the people who really need them - healthcare workers in clinics and hospitals," he said in a national address yesterday.

"For everyone else, in a community setting, alternatives like reusable masks will give some added protection."

Earlier on in the outbreak, the Government had been discouraging people who are well from wearing masks.

However, PM Lee announced that it will now stop doing so and will give a reusable mask to each resident.

This is because evidence exists that people who show no symptoms can pass the virus to others, and that there are some cases which have not been detected out in the community.

Surgical masks are medical devices. They are designed to be fluid resistant and are able to filter bacteria more effectively than reusable masks made of cloth or paper.



National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force fighting the COVID-19 outbreak, said surgical masks are essential for healthcare workers to get the necessary protection while treating patients.

"But for the general population, some form of mask, even a reusable mask, can serve as a physical barrier and can provide some basic protection," he said.

The minister added that for the general public, the main precaution they can take now is to stay at home and wear a reusable mask if they have to go out for essential activities that might result in them coming into close contact with other people.

Mr Wong also noted that there is a global shortage of surgical masks, which makes their conservation for healthcare workers essential.

In the meantime, Singapore is trying to replenish supplies and build up some local capabilities to manufacture the masks, he added.

On Singapore's stockpile of reusable masks, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said: "We have planned for this for some time. And this is why we have the ready stock in our country."

























Be prepared for more coronavirus cases over next few weeks, says Health Minister Gan Kim Yong
By Timothy Goh, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2020

Despite the implementation of tough new measures restricting movements and social interactions, Singapore should still be prepared for a rise in coronavirus cases over the next few weeks, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday.

The new measures come even as the Republic ramps up its contact tracing efforts to fight the virus.

However, Mr Gan, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force that is stemming the spread of the virus here, said: "Over the next one to two weeks, we may still see the number of cases increasing (as) the measures that we put in place today will actually have an effect only after one or two weeks, because the infection has an incubation period."

He added that for some of the cases Singapore is currently seeing, the infections had occurred a week or two prior.

Nevertheless, he urged all to redouble their efforts in maintaining social distancing to slow down the rate of new infections here.



Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, the Ministry of Health's (MOH) director of medical services, said Singapore still has the capacity to handle cases here.

Speaking at the same press conference, Prof Mak said the Republic has been expanding its healthcare capacity in anticipation of an increase in the number of cases here.

Various hospitals here were originally designed with the ability to expand their bed capacity, and this is being tapped, he said.

The Government has also been in discussion with a number of private hospitals, which could help care for patients with COVID-19, or those with chronic illnesses.

MOH has also stocked up on additional equipment, and has been progressively training more people to take on extra roles such as looking after additional patients in the intensive care unit (ICU).

The ministry has also approached healthcare workers who have had previous critical care experience, but are now deployed elsewhere, inviting them to return to their original roles.

Such workers are being provided with refresher training to prepare them for their new responsibilities.

MOH will continue to take on additional measures where needed in anticipation of future increases in the number of cases, said Prof Mak.



Despite Singapore's preparedness, however, Mr Gan cautioned that those here "should not test the limit". The new steps, dubbed circuit-breaker measures, have been put in place to maintain a buffer.

Mr Gan added: "Even if we have a physical capacity in terms of number of beds in ICU and in isolation wards, we also have to be mindful of the healthcare workers who have been working day and night around the clock... in order to take care of these patients.

"So we must do all we can to minimise the number of cases that we see every day, so that we give more capacity to the healthcare system and give more leeway for our healthcare workers so that they are able to perform their tasks."










Coronavirus: Latest measures to go hand in hand with contact tracing
Two-pronged strategy aimed at slowing down increase in unlinked virus cases here
By Timothy Goh, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2020

New measures to keep as many people at home as possible will be deemed successful when the rate of new local COVID-19 cases here slows down, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

"What we would like to see as a result of all of these measures is the slowing down of the number of local cases... particularly in the number of local unlinked cases. Those are the key indicators we look out for," said the co-chair of the multi-ministry task force combating the coronavirus.

To deal with a rising number of new and, especially, unlinked cases in recent days, the Government will put in place tough new social distancing measures that include the closure of most workplaces, a shift to full home-based learning in schools and a "takeaways only" policy at hawker centres, coffee shops, restaurants, and other food and beverage outlets.

Mr Wong said these measures are being paired with enhanced contact tracing efforts by the authorities as part of a two-pronged strategy to combat the virus.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who co-chairs the task force with Mr Wong, said Singapore is continuing to ramp up its contact tracing capacity with support from the police, the Singapore Armed Forces and other manpower resources.



The increased manpower will allow Singapore to continue with its contact tracing efforts despite the increasing number of cases, said Mr Gan.

He added: "Contact tracing will continue to play a very central role in our efforts to contain and manage the outbreak of COVID-19.

"But what is also important is (the) support and cooperation of Singaporeans with regard to our safe distancing measures, because if we are able to keep the safe distance, this will... help slow down the transmission and allow us to have greater capacity to contact trace whatever cases we see."

Mr Wong said that given the extra effort that is being put into contact tracing, Singapore can fight back against the virus if people here are disciplined about abiding by the spirit of the new circuit-breaker measures.

"With both moving in parallel, we have a chance of bringing down the number of local cases significantly and reducing the number of unlinked cases," he said.

He added: "It really comes down to a national effort. This is no longer the work of the Government alone. It is no longer the work of contact tracers alone. All of us must now do our part to slow down the spread of the virus."








In-camp training and IPPT for NSmen deferred until 4 May 2020
Servicemen doing critical functions to stay in camps before and during duty
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2020

Activities involving operationally ready national servicemen (NSmen) such as in-camp training and the Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT) will be deferred until May 4, said the Ministry of Defence.

In a statement yesterday, the ministry said servicemen performing critical functions, such as island defence, protection of key installations, maritime security, air defence and counter-terrorism operations, will be required to stay in their camps and bases before and during their operational duty.

This is to reduce the risk of infection in the critical operational units, it added.



The latest measures by the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) follow the announcement of the strictest measures to date by the Government, which include closing most workplaces from next Tuesday to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The SAF will implement these additional measures, which take immediate effect, to maintain its operational readiness to defend Singapore's peace and security amid the evolving COVID-19 outbreak, said the ministry.



Other SAF units, including training schools such as the Officer Cadet School, Specialist Cadet School, and the Basic Military Training Centre, will continue operating and training with enhanced safety measures.

Where feasible, servicemen in administrative roles will work from their homes, the ministry added.



In a Facebook post yesterday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the SAF has to continue to safeguard Singapore's territorial borders and remain vigilant against external threats, despite the stricter measures announced to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak.

"Through these measures, the SAF joins all Singaporeans in this fight against COVID-19, even as it keeps to its mission to defend Singapore," Dr Ng said.










President Halimah urges all Singaporeans to do their part to fight coronavirus
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 4 Apr 2020

Every Singaporean can do his or her part in breaking the chain of transmission of the coronavirus and containing its spread, President Halimah Yacob said yesterday.

People can do so by observing good personal hygiene and taking precautions such as not shaking hands and practising other social distancing measures, she added.

"We need every Singaporean to be on board. The success of our effort really depends on the will, forbearance and tenacity of our people. So, we cannot be the weakest link in the chain," she said in a post on her Facebook page.

"If we don't step up our individual efforts to keep the virus away, all the other measures will be compromised too," she added.



President Halimah said the Government is doing its level best to contain COVID-19 from spreading, with the team in charge working very hard.

"Our healthcare system is well prepared to manage the crisis. Our healthcare personnel, too, have done really fantastic work testing suspected cases as well as treating those who are infected," she added.



Madam Halimah also said that the increase in locally transmitted cases should be a cause of worry, as it means the virus is spreading in the community.

That is why every person needs to be on board to help stop the spread of the virus, she said. "Stay safe everyone. Let's do our part to break the chain of transmission."










Singapore to take care of foreign workers: S. Iswaran
Ministry of Manpower working with other agencies to address worries about their livelihood, welfare: Iswaran
By Lim Min Zhang, The Sunday Times, 5 Apr 2020

The livelihood of foreign workers will be taken care of, as Singapore ramps up measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus, said Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran yesterday.

Speaking to reporters after a 30-minute dialogue with foreign workers at a dormitory in Jurong, Mr Iswaran said the Government's top concern is their health and well-being, along with that of Singapore residents.

"The second thing is that they have concerns around their livelihood, as well as their welfare, and these are things that the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) is working with other government agencies, as well as the dormitory authorities to address.

"We want to assure the workers that we are doing our best to address these concerns, and ensure that they are able to navigate this period of closure with some level of peace of mind."

He spoke with about 50 workers from Westlite Papan dormitory in an engagement session, which was also attended by Minister of State for Manpower Zaqy Mohamad.

The session was planned to assuage workers' concerns due to the shutting down of most workplaces from Tuesday to May 4. Some of them might have to suspend work due to these restrictions.

More than 7,000 residents live in the Westlite Papan dormitory.

Dormitories have been a growing concern in this outbreak, with three of the four new clusters announced by the Ministry of Health yesterday being dormitories - Sungei Tengah Lodge, Toh Guan Dormitory and Cochrane Lodge II.

This is in addition to several other clusters that have been previously identified, such as Westlite Toh Guan dormitory, which now has 18 confirmed cases.



On Friday, the Government announced its tightest measures to date to stem the spike in local COVID-19 cases.

Among them was the closure of workplaces, other than those in key economic sectors and essential services, from Tuesday to May 4.

Speaking in Tamil and English, Mr Iswaran said during the dialogue that the latest measures aim to minimise human interaction to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Yesterday, the workers asked questions about whether they may lose their jobs as a result of this pandemic, if other workers who are overseas can return to Singapore to work, and how they can help in the national effort to fight the virus.

Asked by a reporter whether foreign workers were worried that more clusters could emerge in dormitories and construction sites, Mr Iswaran said: "I think anxiety is inevitable. Wherever these clusters emerge, I think there's anxiety.

"That is why we have a very clear protocol on how to manage them. First, in identifying the source during the contact tracing, and then taking other appropriate measures, whether it is quarantine orders, closing down the relevant area for thorough cleaning et cetera."

He appealed to everyone - Singaporeans, permanent residents and foreign workers - to cooperate with the latest measures.

Mr Kong Chee Min, chief executive of Centurion Cooperation which manages Westlite Papan, said that they have been reviewing their measures every day, including distributing disinfectants and putting up educational materials.

He said that MOM had discussed with them about stricter measures that will soon be implemented.

"They have been preparing us ahead of time, so it helps us in terms of planning, including catering of food, delivering it to the workers, having Wi-Fi in the rooms, and managing the flow of workers, so that they are not always being cooped up in the rooms," said Mr Kong.

Mr Mohammad Abu Rahad, 28, a process maintenance worker who lives at the Westlite Papan dormitory and was at the dialogue, told reporters that it is sometimes impossible to practise safe distancing when there are 16 people living in the same room.

"Of course we are concerned that the virus can spread here, but it cannot be helped. What we can do by ourselves is maybe to have people go for meals in smaller groups, or at different timings," he said.






Singapore residents arriving from ASEAN countries, France, India and Switzerland must serve stay-home notice at dedicated facilities from 11.59pm on 5 April 2020
By Audrey Tan, The Sunday Times, 5 Apr 2020

More returning Singaporeans will have to serve their 14-day stay-home notice (SHN) at dedicated facilities instead of in their homes, as part of new measures to reduce the risk of COVID-19 community transmission.

From 11.59pm today, 5 April, the rule will extend to Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term pass holders returning from ASEAN countries, India, France and Switzerland, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said yesterday.

Currently, the requirement is only for those returning from the United States and Britain.

All returnees are transported straight from the airport to the hotels. There, they have their own rooms and toilets, and all meals are provided, so that they can be isolated from others.

The countries identified were based on the ministry's assessment of risks and the history of imported cases in Singapore, said MOH, adding that the move was to protect Singaporeans and reduce the risk of community transmission from imported cases.



Those returning from other countries have to serve their 14-day notice at home and are not allowed to step out during this time.

The dedicated SHN facilities do not just provide hotel rooms.

"We also work with the hotel operators to provide training for their staff, and to put in place proper security arrangements, as well as infection control and precautions," said the MOH.

It takes time to get such facilities ready, and Singapore does not at present have enough to accommodate all returnees, it added.

"Therefore, based on the current capacity, we have prioritised the facilities for returnees from these specific countries," said MOH.

It added that the multi-ministry task force will continue to monitor the evolving COVID-19 situation, and work closely with the private sector to adjust Singapore's capacity of SHN facilities accordingly.



Meanwhile, 22 Singapore residents yesterday safely arrived in Singapore from Kathmandu, Nepal, said the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA).

The Singapore residents had boarded a repatriation flight arranged by the Malaysian government for its nationals from Kathmandu to Kuala Lumpur, and they subsequently returned to Singapore from Kuala Lumpur, MFA said.

Said an MFA spokesman: "The Singapore Government would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to the Malaysian government and the Embassy of Malaysia in Kathmandu for accepting our request to help accommodate the Singapore residents on the flight back from Nepal."

MOH's latest announcement is the latest to pre-empt escalating coronavirus infections.

From Tuesday, most workplaces will be closed and all schools will be closed from Wednesday.


















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