Wednesday 22 April 2020

Singapore extends COVID-19 circuit breaker period by 4 weeks until 1 June 2020: PM Lee Hsien Loong

Additional $3.8 billion wage support, other relief measures to be extended in the month of May 2020 to tide firms over longer circuit breaker: DPM Heng Swee Keat

June school holidays to start from May 5 to cover extended circuit breaker period, says MOE

Last digit of IC to determine entry to four markets; essential workforce to be cut to 15 per cent

Up to 3,000 tests for COVID-19 done daily in Singapore, most on foreign workers

All foreign workers living in dorms barred from leaving premises until May 4 under tighter measures to curb COVID-19 spread


Measures to check coronavirus spread tightened and extended to June 1
PM Lee says no room for complacency amid spread in dorms and also wider community
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2020

Circuit breaker measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus will be extended to June 1, with existing rules further tightened for the next two weeks.

This means more workplaces will be closed, reducing the number of workers who keep essential services going.

All standalone food and beverage outlets selling mainly drinks and snacks, as well as hairdressing and barber shops, were asked to shut by 11.59pm last night, 21 April.

Entry restrictions are also being put in place at hot spots where large groups of people continue to gather, starting with four popular markets.

These stricter measures will last until May 4, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his fourth national address on the situation.

But it would not be possible to return to business as usual soon thereafter, and so the circuit breaker would have to be extended until June 1.

"Then, provided we have brought the community numbers down, we can make further adjustments and consider easing some measures," he said yesterday. "This way, we can be more assured that we have made definite progress and consolidated our position."

His statement, which he also delivered in Mandarin and Malay, came just before Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that the Government will extend wage support for businesses next month, at a cost of $3.8 billion.

PM Lee acknowledged that many people, especially businesses and workers, will be disappointed by the extension of circuit breaker measures.

"But I hope you understand that this short-term pain is to stamp out the virus, protect the health and safety of our loved ones, and allow us to revive our economy," he said.

Another 1,111 new cases were reported yesterday, 21 April, driven mainly by foreign workers living in dormitories who are being tested rigorously, taking the national total to 9,125.

Although the number of community cases has fallen in recent days, Singaporeans cannot afford to be complacent, PM Lee said.

"We must press on to bring down daily infections more sharply, to single digits, or even zero."

Singapore must also keep working to reduce the number of unlinked cases, he said.

"Unfortunately that number has not come down," PM Lee said. "And this suggests there is a larger, hidden reservoir of cases in the community that is the source of these unlinked cases, which we have not detected."

He called on all Singaporeans to stay home as far as possible, urging those who have to go out to do so alone and not with their family.

"Remember: It is not just about adhering to the letter of the law," he said. "The spirit of the guidelines is to reduce movement to a minimum, and to avoid being out and about in the community. This is the way to protect yourself, your family and everyone else."

PM Lee also repeated his assurance to migrants that their health and livelihood will be taken care of.

"To our migrant workers, let me emphasise again, we will care for you like we care for Singaporeans," he said.

Those with mild cases of COVID-19 are either being housed on-site, in separate facilities within dormitories, or in community care facilities elsewhere.

Those who need more active treatment will receive immediate attention and be taken promptly to the hospital, PM Lee said.

Looking ahead, he said that several things must be in place for the circuit breaker to end. The country must open up incrementally, making sure that it is safe to do so at every step.

Singapore also needs to substantially scale up testing for COVID-19 so that it can quickly detect any new cases.

"This we are beginning to do, not only by procuring test kits and equipment from other countries, but also by developing and manufacturing our own test kits," PM Lee said.

Lastly, Singapore needs to make full use of IT so that contact tracing can take place more efficiently. Apps are being developed for this purpose, but people must install them and weigh privacy concerns against the benefits of being able to exit from the circuit breaker, he said.

Additional $3.8 billion to support businesses and workers
Wage support, other relief measures to be extended to tide firms over longer circuit breaker
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2020

Singapore will extend wage support for businesses next month, as it prolongs the duration of the circuit breaker measures for another month to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Under the enhanced Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), the Government now subsidises 75 per cent of the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages for 1.9 million local workers.

This support, in the initial circuit breaker month of April, will be extended through next month, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday, after the Government announced the extension of stringent restrictions on the movement of people by another four weeks until June 1.

Other existing support measures for businesses that will be extended for next month include waiving foreign worker levies and giving a $750 rebate for each Work Permit or S Pass holder they employ.

The Government will also roll out the new COVID-19 Support Grant from next month to give those who lose their jobs because of the crisis an $800 monthly grant for three months. The Ministry of Social and Family Development will give details on how to apply soon.

In all, the added support to tide Singaporeans through another four weeks of safe distancing measures will cost the Government $3.8 billion, said DPM Heng.

This adds to the $59.9 billion the Government has marshalled to fund measures to deal with the COVID-19 disease and cushion its economic impact.

Mr Heng urged employers to retain their workers and make full use of the various grants for training and upgrading corporate capabilities. "The months of April and May - this will be a test of our resilience as individuals and as a society," he said. "We cannot be certain when the crisis will end. But what is certain is that we are here for you and we will support you."

Employers who put local employees on mandatory no-pay leave or retrench them will not be able to get wage support under the enhanced JSS for the affected employees, said the Finance Ministry.

The JSS will also be enhanced to include employees who are also shareholders and directors of their companies. But to be eligible, their assessable income has to be $100,000 or less last year, and their companies must be registered on or before April 20 this year. Mr Heng said this group of people, which the ministry expects to total about 50,000, had previously not qualified for the JSS, or income relief schemes for the self-employed.

Keep grocery shopping, exercise a solo affair, says Lawrence Wong
If you leave home for these matters, don't turn it into a family outing
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2020

If you are leaving the house to pick up essential items or to exercise, do it alone and don't turn it into a family affair, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

But nothing beats staying home, he added. "Yes, we can take precautions like safe distancing and the wearing of masks, but the best way to beat the virus is to stay home."

Speaking at a virtual media conference, he said: "If you need to go out to buy food, to buy groceries, go out alone. Don't turn this into an occasion for a family outing. And if you need to go out to exercise, exercise alone and in your own neighbourhood; don't travel out to exercise."

Earlier advisories had allowed members of the same household to work out outdoors together.

But the minister now urges residents to go solo when going out.

During the circuit breaker period, all carparks in gardens, parks and nature reserves will also close, said the National Parks Board last night.

Minimising movement is critical to limiting the spread of the coronavirus, Mr Wong said. "We call on everyone to do this, because it is the best way to protect yourself and your family members."

Singapore is now two weeks into the circuit breaker period for keeping people at home. Non-essential services have been shut, while social gatherings and dining in at eateries are banned.

There have been positive results so far, but the battle against COVID-19 will be a prolonged one, and Singaporeans must continue to hunker down, said the minister, who is co-chair of the multi-ministry task force leading the fight against the virus.

"Remember, the virus spreads through people, through our contacts with others, when we go out and touch surfaces, and then our hands touch our faces," he added.

Meanwhile, stiffer social distancing measures were announced yesterday, including entry restrictions at four wet markets and the closure of some businesses that had earlier been deemed essential.

These new restrictions will remain in place until May 4, after which they may be adjusted as the circuit breaker continues for another four weeks, till June 1.

"If we see community (infection) numbers coming down to single digits, then we can consider gradually easing some of these measures," said Mr Wong.

Entry to 4 markets depends on last digit of your IC number
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2020

From today, those heading to four popular wet markets will be allowed to enter only on selected dates - depending on the last digit of their NRIC number.

Those with an even last digit on their identity or foreign identification card will be let in on the even dates of the month, while people with an odd last digit will have to visit on the odd dates.

The measures to further limit crowds will apply to Geylang Serai Market, Chong Pang Market at Block 104/105 Yishun Ring Road, and the markets at Block 20/21 Marsiling Lane and Block 505 Jurong West Street 52.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said last night that those who need assistance, such as the elderly and those with disabilities, can be accompanied by one family member or domestic helper.

But at least one person must have an identification card number that meets the odd and even date requirement, NEA added, even as it stressed that the elderly are still encouraged not to visit markets at peak hours.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said at a media conference yesterday that these measures could be expanded to safeguard public health and stem the spread of the coronavirus in the community.

"We will start with wet markets and we may do this also in other popular areas like supermarkets in order to thin out the crowds and reduce transmission risk in these areas," he said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an address before the press conference that some hot spots, such as popular wet markets, remain a problem as crowds make it difficult to practise safe distancing.

Concerns over 'hidden reservoir' of coronavirus cases: PM Lee Hsien Loong
Stepped-up measures to prevent these forming new clusters of infection
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2020

While the number of COVID-19 cases in the community has fallen in recent days, the number of unlinked cases has not come down, suggesting that there is a "larger, hidden reservoir" of cases, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday.

This is one of the reasons why Singapore has decided to extend the circuit breaker period and implement more stringent measures for the next two weeks, he said.

Singapore has seen a spike in cases recently, mainly driven by an outbreak among foreign workers staying in dormitories.

"We want to bring down the community numbers decisively," PM Lee said in his fourth national address on the ongoing crisis. "We also want to make sure that if any leakage occurs from the dorms to the wider community, we can detect and contain it early, and prevent new clusters from forming and bursting out of control."

Speaking at a press conference after PM Lee's address, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said the number of unlinked cases in the community currently averages about 20 a day. The Ministry of Health has also been picking up COVID-19 cases from its surveillance programmes, which carry out random tests in the community to identify cases that would have otherwise gone undetected.

"This indicates that there is continued seeding in the community, many of them undetected because the illnesses are mild, symptoms are mild, but they are still infectious," Mr Gan said.

"We are now at the midpoint of the circuit breaker measures. It is therefore very critical for all of us to put in extra effort in safe distancing so that we can break the transmission and further reduce the number of cases in the community."

All standalone food and beverage outlets, as well as hairdressing and barber shops, had to shut by 11.59pm yesterday. Temperature screening will be done at all supermarkets and malls from today, and visitors will have to provide their particulars for contact tracing.

PM Lee also called on Singaporeans to stay home as far as possible, urging those who have to go out to do so alone and not as a group or with family. He acknowledged that many people will be disappointed by the extension of circuit breaker measures.

"But I hope you understand that this short-term pain is to stamp out the virus, protect the health and safety of our loved ones, and allow us to revive our economy."

PM Lee Hsien Loong outlines steps needed for gradual exit from circuit breaker
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2020

Lifting of measures to contain the COVID-19 outbreak will have to happen cautiously and incrementally, in conjunction with increased testing and better use of technology for contact tracing.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong yesterday outlined the steps needed for Singapore to open up again, even as he announced an extension to the period of safe distancing measures known as the circuit breaker.

Addressing the nation on the COVID-19 situation, PM Lee announced that circuit breaker measures that began on April 7 will be extended until June 1.

More stringent movement restrictions will also be in place until May 4, when the initial month-long circuit breaker period was supposed to end.

"You will naturally ask - where does this lead us? How do we exit from the circuit breaker?" said PM Lee as he sought to answer concerns during his fourth address to the nation regarding the pandemic.

Singapore must take things "one step at a time", as it will likely take more than a year for effective treatments or vaccines to be available, he said.

Explaining the country's strategy to exit the circuit breaker, PM Lee named three steps: relaxing safe distancing measures gradually, stepping up testing substantially and making better use of technology to track and trace COVID-19 infections.

He said that at first, any lifting of movement restrictions must be done incrementally and in small steps, "making sure that we are safe each step of the way".

Other countries such as New Zealand and Germany, which are beginning to do this, are being extra careful, in case COVID-19 infections return and force them to "lock down a second time", he said, adding that Singapore should try to avoid such a possibility.

Second, the Republic also needs to ramp up testing for COVID-19 "substantially" so it can quickly detect new cases that pop up, he said.

"This we are beginning to do, not only by procuring test kits and equipment from other countries, but also by developing and manufacturing our own test kits," he said.

Lastly, Singapore must make greater use of information technology to more efficiently trace the movements and contacts of COVID-19 cases when they are discovered.

PM Lee pointed to the TraceTogether app developed by the Government Technology Agency as an example, and said other apps were being developed.

He urged people to install and use these apps, saying they will work only if everyone cooperates. "There will be some privacy concerns, but we will have to weigh these against the benefits of being able to exit from the circuit breaker and stay open safely," he said.

While COVID-19 transmissions in the general community have dropped, the number of infections among foreign workers has gone up sharply in recent weeks.

Yesterday, there were 1,111 new coronavirus cases, lower than the high of 1,426 cases announced the previous day.

The total tally stands at 9,125.

"I know this has not been an easy time for everyone. We are making progress but we have not yet succeeded by a long way," he said.

"The results do show that the circuit breaker is working. Now we all need to do a little bit more, make best use of the next two weeks of the tightened circuit breaker and the four weeks of the extension beyond that."

He also appealed to Singaporeans to support, cooperate with, trust and have confidence in him and the Government, as it tries to bring infection numbers down decisively.

"Let us go all out to beat the virus and break the chain of transmission. We will overcome this together," he said.

Ramadan still meaningful even if mosques remain closed: PM Lee
By Hariz Baharudin, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2020

Even though mosques in Singapore will remain closed throughout the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, the country's religious leaders and teachers will make sure that the holy month will still be meaningful, assured Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

Yesterday, PM Lee announced that the circuit breaker measures meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus will be extended to June 1.

This extension will cover the whole of Ramadan, which begins on Friday and ends on May 24, when Hari Raya Aidilfitri is observed.

In addition to abstaining from food from dawn to dusk and paying Zakat, or alms giving, Ramadan is usually observed by special prayers and mass religious activities in mosques. These will not be possible due to closures during the circuit breaker period.

In the Malay portion of his national address on the coronavirus situation yesterday, PM Lee said he was disappointed that he will not have the opportunity to break fast with Muslim community members at mosques.

But he added: "Nevertheless, I understand that the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), religious teachers and the Muslim community are in full spirits to ensure that Ramadan this year will not be less great and still meaningful.

"Many online platforms and materials are provided to guide the Muslim community to perform their fasting obligation, to pay Zakat and do charity, to help those in need."

PM Lee also expressed his gratitude for the sacrifice and resilience that the Muslim community here was showing in going through the "difficult time" of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the English portion of his speech, PM Lee gave the assurance that arrangements for Ramadan and Hari Raya Aidilfitri will be made for Muslim foreign workers.

"Ramadan begins in a few days' time. We will make sure that arrangements are made for our Muslim workers. When Aidilfitri comes next month, we will celebrate with our Muslim friends, just as we celebrated the New Year with our Indian friends last week," he said, referring to the Tamil New Year that fell on April 14.

Later on, at a media conference, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo said that Muis and the Government have developed religious materials for these workers to use during Ramadan.

She added that the Government has worked together with caterers and purpose-built dormitory operators to provide timely pre-dawn and break fast meals.

June school holidays to start from May 5 to cover extended circuit breaker period, says MOE
Students will get 1-week break in July; O-and A-level mother tongue exams rescheduled
By Amelia Teng, Education Correspondent, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2020

The June school holidays will be brought forward to begin on May 5, to coincide with the one-month extension of the national circuit breaker period announced yesterday.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said: "While home-based learning has been going well, it has been an intense period of hard work and adjustment for parents, students and teachers.

"An early June holiday will give everyone a respite. It also buys us time for a less restrictive school opening in June."

With school holidays starting earlier, lessons will resume on June 2, MOE said. More details on the format the lessons should take will follow later.

This means that term 3 will now be longer, but MOE said a one-week mid-term break will take place from July 20 to 26.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development and the Early Childhood Development Agency also announced last night that kindergartens will commence school holidays on May 5 and reopen on June 2.

In tandem with the extension of circuit breaker measures, the suspension of general services by pre-schools, student care centres, special student care centres and early intervention centres will also be extended to June 1.

However, childcare centres will continue to remain open to accommodate a small group of parents who are working in essential services like healthcare.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said yesterday in a Facebook post: "By June 1, hopefully, the situation will be much better, and we can look forward to a safe and orderly opening of schools."

Acknowledging that this period of home-based learning has not been easy for families, Mr Ong said it cannot be a prolonged substitute for attending school, but only a "fallback when schools are suspended".

"It is better to let everyone have a break from this intense period," he added.

The revised academic calendar is as follows:

- May 5 to June 1: School holidays

- June 2: Start of term 3

- July 20 to 26: Mid-term break

- Sept 6: End of term 3

MOE will also make changes to the curricula tested this year, to take into account the impact of the extended circuit breaker on curriculum time and to allay students' anxiety. It said that common last topics - a set of topics that are typically taught last by all schools towards the end of the academic year - will be removed from the national examinations this year.

These include "interactions within the environment" for science at the Primary School Leaving Examination level, vectors for O-level mathematics and "introduction to the chemistry of transition elements" for A-level H2 chemistry.

For skill-based subjects such as English language and mother tongue languages, MOE said it will not be "meaningful and practical" to identify common last topics.

"In such instances, the Singapore Examinations and Assessment Board (SEAB) will take the disruption to curriculum time into consideration during marking and grading to ensure that all students are fairly assessed," it added.

Mr Ong said removing the common last topics "will reduce the curriculum load and ease the pressure off teachers and students in catching up with the curriculum".

In the light of the changes, the SEAB will reschedule the mid-year mother tongue language (MTL) written examinations.

The O-level and A-level H1 MTL papers 1 and 2 scheduled for June 1 will be rescheduled to June 18, and the O-level and A-level MTL B papers 1 and 2 on June 2 will be shifted to June 19. The listening comprehension for O-and A-level MTL and MTL B will be rescheduled from July 21 and 22 respectively to July 27.

About 20,600 students across all schools have registered for the O-and A-level MTL mid-year examinations. The ministry noted that even with the adjustments, students in graduating cohorts will continue to face some anxiety.

It will arrange more consultations and face-to-face lessons with students when the situation improves. Schools will also help other students cope with the year-end school examinations, and MOE will guide schools further on how to make adjustments.

Students who do not have support at home will continue to be supported by a small group of teachers in schools.

The moves by MOE come after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's fourth national address on the COVID-19 situation yesterday, announcing that the one-month circuit breaker period will be extended by another month to June 1, to further curb the spread of the virus.

Up to 3,000 tests for COVID-19 done daily in Singapore, most on foreign workers
By Timothy Goh, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2020

Singapore has been aggressively testing foreign workers for the coronavirus, even those who are well and have no symptoms, the multi-ministry task force told a press conference yesterday.

The authorities have opted to do targeted testing rather than testing every single person in the larger community, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who co-chairs the task force.

Singapore has a "very strategic way" of conducting tests, he explained. He said: "We have millions of Singaporeans, and we will not be able to test every one of them. So... we do targeted testing."

For instance, tests are done on essential workers who need to go out, to ensure that they are not carrying the infection while going to work.

The Health Ministry's director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, said: "That testing is to assure not just those of us within the task force, but also the public that the workers that are continuing to contribute are in fact not infected, and are not at risk of transmitting the infection to other people in the community."

A random testing programme, known as sentinel surveillance, is also used to pick up cases in the community that would otherwise have gone undetected. This programme is aimed at finding people who have the virus, but have very mild symptoms or do not complain of suspected COVID-19 infection.

Such testing has revealed that there are still cases of COVID-19 being transmitted in the community, some of whom remain infectious despite mild symptoms, said Mr Gan.

"That is why we need to put in extra effort (with) these circuit breaker measures, to make sure that we are able to bring down these community cases, particularly those that are unlinked," he said.

Prof Mak said that although the number of tests conducted varied on a daily basis, it could rise to between 2,800 and 3,000 on some days.

Between 1,500 and 2,500 of these tests were being carried out on foreign workers.

Mr Gan explained that testing helped to give a sense of the prevalence of COVID-19 in the dormitories, allowing the authorities to identify those where the disease is more widespread, and determine the level of response.

It also enables those in charge to identify infected patients and get them the necessary medical attention.

Noting that over 5,000 foreign workers had already tested positive for the virus, Prof Mak said: "We've in fact (tested) more than that, because there's also those (who) tested negative as well. So the number continues to grow."

But Singapore is prepared for the increased pace of testing. Earlier yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, in an address to the nation, said that in addition to developing and manufacturing its own test kits, Singapore was also getting them from overseas.

Mr Gan explained during the press conference that this was intended to help keep testing options open here.

"We want to be able to also use different models, different test kits, different ways of testing," he said.

He added that the purchase of test kits from overseas was also intended to help Singapore increase its testing capacity and capabilities, in order to prepare for the eventual lifting of circuit breaker measures.

"Our testing is not just for now. For the moment we are focusing on foreign workers in our dormitories as well as our essential workers, but... as we progress in opening up our circuit breaker measures, we will need to increase our testing capability because we need to make sure that there is no transmission in the community - and in order to make sure that there's no transmission in the community, we need to test a lot more," he said.

Not moving workers out of dorms earlier not just about cost: Manpower Minister Josephine Teo
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2020

Cost was not why foreign workers were not moved out of their dormitories earlier as part of efforts to curb the spread of the coronavirus, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo yesterday.

Rather, this could be done only in the context of wider measures to break the transmission, such as work stoppages, closing shopping areas and preventing people from socialising.

Mrs Teo was asked during yesterday's virtual press conference whether foreign workers were not asked to move out of dormitories earlier because of the potentially high cost, at a time when there were not as many confirmed cases among this group to justify doing so.

She replied that the issue went "well beyond costs".

Mrs Teo noted that measures to contain the virus had been taken at dormitories since early January, by asking operators to raise the standard of hygiene, and sharing information with workers on how to protect themselves against the virus.

Safe distancing measures were later implemented at the dormitories, like closing non-essential facilities such as TV rooms.

But the more recent measures went much further, in asking workers not to socialise, cook meals for themselves, or even go to work, impacting their lives and livelihoods.

Mrs Teo said: "We are now asking the workers not to go to work. So from the workers' standpoint, this is a question of livelihood.

"Now to say that we could have done this much earlier, I think, really does not reflect an understanding of the workers' own concerns. It would not have been so easy to tell the workers: Please don't go to work because we want to protect you."

She added that such measures would need to have been done in the context of a circuit breaker where most work has stopped, and workers cannot use the communal kitchens to cook for themselves, or go out on their rest days and interact with their friends.

"So it's not just a question of cost, it is also a question of what is necessary to break the transmission.

"And it is important for us to recognise this and not frame this really from a cost viewpoint and as a result conclude that we didn't undertake these measures earlier only because of cost."

With 10,000 workers in essential services having moved out from dormitories to alternative accommodations, residents still in dormitories must not leave the premises from yesterday until May 4, said the Health Ministry yesterday.

COVID-19 cases among foreign workers staying in dormitories have become an increasing concern, with 28 out of 43 purpose-built dormitories in Singapore having known clusters as of yesterday.

10,000 workers in essential services moved out of dorms
The rest staying there are barred from leaving premises even to work until May 4, in move that applies to all firms
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2020

About 10,000 foreign workers in essential services have been pulled out of dormitories while others staying in them have been barred from leaving the premises from yesterday until May 4.

They cannot go out even for work, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo at a virtual press conference yesterday.

This latest measure applies to workers of all companies, even those given permission earlier to operate in the current circuit breaker period from April 7 to May 4.

Mrs Teo said the new restriction "was something we had planned for, and now we're going to implement it". She also said the Ministry of Trade and Industry will notify the affected companies that have to suspend their operations.

"We know that there are going to be some adjustments to be made by the companies, but we seek the cooperation of both the employers and workers on this new condition. It is a necessary measure to minimise the risk of transmissions."

The measure took effect from 11.59pm yesterday, said a Ministry of Health statement.

It will apply to all dormitories, including the larger purpose-built ones as well as factory-converted dormitories and on-site temporary quarters.

Employers must continue to work with dormitory operators to ensure the well-being of workers in the dormitories, including taking care of their food and other daily needs, the statement added.

Workers in essential services who have moved out of dormitories are staying in alternative abodes, such as vacant Housing Board flats, floating hotels and military camps.

Safe distancing measures have been implemented at all purpose-built dormitories to prevent intermingling of workers, and medical posts have been set up so that they can report sick without having to leave the premises.

With the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan starting on Friday, Mrs Teo said the inter-agency task force, set up earlier this month to handle the outbreak in dormitories, has coordinated with caterers and dormitory operators to provide pre-dawn and break fast meals.

"This is very important to our Muslim friends and we want to ensure they're properly taken care of when Ramadan begins."

With the increasing number of coronavirus infections among workers in the construction sector, the authorities announced last week that 180,000 construction work permit and S Pass holders and their dependants were to be placed on stay-home notices from Monday until May 4.

Mrs Teo said her ministry decided to do this as contact tracing had indicated that transmissions at common construction work sites may have contributed to the rise in the number of infected cases.

"So this is something that we have taken as an added precaution and, during the period of the stay-home notice, enforcement officers will conduct regular and random checks."

These checks may include making phone calls or sending text messages to the affected workers who must respond, she added.

Earlier yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a live address to the nation that the circuit breaker period will be extended by another month to June 1, with more workplaces to be closed to further reduce the number of workers keeping essential services going.

Addressing the impact on migrant workers, he said the Government will step up medical resources in dorms to protect the health of the workers.

This includes housing mild coronavirus cases either on-site, in a separate facility within the dorm, or in community care facilities elsewhere.

And he added that the Government will make sure that those who need active treatment receive immediate attention and are sent promptly to hospital.

"We will also pay special attention to the older workers, who are more vulnerable. We are pre-emptively moving them to a separate dorm, where they can be monitored more closely," he said.

As of yesterday, 28 of the 43 purpose-built dormitories in Singapore have known clusters. Also, there are at least 16 clusters at smaller factory-converted dorms.

Mrs Teo said workers have been understanding of the measures implemented, and she thanked them for their cooperation.

"If we are able to follow through with this... coupled with the measures taken at the dormitories, we have a real chance of breaking these channels of transmission."

Lifting circuit breaker would raise risk of coronavirus spread from dorms
Overall rise in the number of cases also puts strain on healthcare system, say experts
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2020

Singapore faces two separate epidemics at the moment, a massive outbreak in the foreign worker dormitories and a more controlled community spread, with the possibility of one spilling over to the other, said Associate Professor Alex Cook.

Prof Cook, vice-dean of research at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said that while there is potential for the outbreak to "spill over from the dormitories to the community", the risk is low while circuit breaker measures are in force.

He added: "The number of cases in the dorms is emotionally shocking, but is quite in line with the projections based on the last few weeks of cases: We're seeing doubling in the number of cases every two to three days."

There were 1,111 new COVID-19 cases yesterday, of which 1,050 were foreign workers living in dormitories.

The disease is in the exponential growth stage in dormitories, said Prof Cook. "So the daily case counts will keep accelerating unless we can substantially reduce contacts between infected and susceptible men in the dormitories."

His colleague at the school, Associate Professor Hsu Li Yang, who is both an infectious diseases expert and an epidemiologist, predicts that the number of new infections among foreign workers living in dormitories will stay high for several more days.

He said: "What we are seeing in the dorms reflects events from about five days ago, given the interval period of the virus."

Like Prof Cook, he said that while measures are in place, including isolation areas in dormitories, spread of the virus from the dormitories to the rest of the community will be very minimal.

"However, if the outbreak among the foreign workers is not contained, easing circuit breaker restrictions will increase the risk of the spread of the virus," Prof Hsu added.

He said in theory, measures could be eased for the rest of the country while remaining tight for foreign workers, but doing so "does not convey an impression of solidarity as a country".

Furthermore, the number of new cases in the community is still quite high. There has been an average of 30 cases a day in the past week.

Said Prof Hsu: "Circuit breaker restrictions should probably be eased only when we are sure that the community spread has been contained - that is, when the case count has been in single digits for at least a couple of weeks."

Prof Cook added that the dormitory outbreak does pose risk for the rest of the population, even if there is little risk of direct spread of the virus to them.

"While they're separate outbreaks from the point of view of transmission, they are not when it comes to treatment.

"If we keep having a thousand or more cases a day, it will impose a massive strain upon our healthcare system," he said.

Public hospitals here have postponed non-urgent cases since January to free up hospital beds for patients infected with the coronavirus.

Said Prof Cook: "It therefore behoves us to adhere even more strictly to the physical distancing measures in place, because each new infection adds extra stress to the healthcare system."

Majority of new coronavirus cases confirmed in Singapore are foreign workers living in dormitories
By Jean Iau, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2020

Foreign workers living in dormitories continue to make up the majority of new coronavirus patients here, accounting for over 94 per cent of the 1,111 new cases announced yesterday.

A total of 1,050 of the new coronavirus cases are foreign workers living in dorms, as the total number of cases in Singapore crossed the 9,000 mark.

With the updated figures, nearly four in five of all the 9,125 coronavirus cases in Singapore now are foreign workers living in dormitories.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said that it continues to pick up many more cases in dorms because of extensive testing. Most of these cases have a mild illness and are being monitored in community isolation facilities or the general wards of hospitals, it said. None of them is in intensive care.

The ministry added that these cases from dorms are not new infections as the workers are staying in their rooms and many have not reported sick.

There were also three new coronavirus clusters announced yesterday: The Jovell construction site at Flora Drive in Tampines, Pesko Engineering in Joo Koon Road, and 5 Sungei Kadut Avenue.

The Jovell construction site has 13 patients, Pesko Engineering has 51 patients, and 5 Sungei Kadut Avenue has 15 cases.

The S11 Dormitory @ Punggol continues to be the biggest cluster, with 2,143 patients now linked to it. This cluster alone accounts for about 23 per cent of all 9,125 cases in Singapore.

Of the new coronavirus cases outside of dorms, MOH said 20 are Singaporeans and permanent residents, while eight are work pass or long-term pass holders.

Another 33 new cases are work permit holders who did not live in dorms. There are no new imported cases.

Of the new cases, 66 per cent are linked to known clusters.

MOH also noted yesterday that the number of new cases in the community had fallen to an average of 28 per day in the past week, from an average of 39 cases per day in the week before.

Meanwhile, the number of unlinked cases in the community decreased slightly from an average of 21 cases per day in the week before to an average of 20 cases per day in the past week.

However, the number of new cases among work permit holders outside dorms had shot up to an average of 26 per day in the past week, from an average of 14 cases per day in the week before.

As of yesterday, the prevalence of positive coronavirus cases in the community was 0.022 per cent, but it was 0.056 per cent among the 664,000 workers not living in dorms, and 2.2 per cent among the 323,000 foreign workers residing in dorms, which means 7,127 workers in dorms have been diagnosed as having the coronavirus.

The overall prevalence of the virus in Singapore is now 0.16 per cent.

MOH also said yesterday that 39 more patients were discharged from hospitals and isolation facilities. Since January, 839 patients have fully recovered and been discharged.

Of the 3,593 confirmed cases still in hospital, most are stable or improving, but 27 are in critical condition in intensive care units.

Another 4,682 patients who are clinically well but still test positive for COVID-19 have been isolated and are being cared for at community facilities.

Eleven people have died from complications due to COVID-19.

Confined foreign workers will get paid, have medical needs and meals taken care of, says Shanmugam
Workers given assurances on pay, food, medical treatment
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 23 Apr 2020

Foreign workers who are confined to their dormitories for the next two weeks can rest assured that their salaries will be paid and their food and medical needs will be attended to, Minister for Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

Speaking to reporters after a visit to the Westlite Papan dormitory in the Jurong area, Mr Shanmugam said the purpose of his visit was to hear from the workers, to understand their concerns and to give them assurance.

"It is tough to be cut off and be in a room most of the time, but they understand. Their main request is they hope after this is over, they will be allowed to work in Singapore," he said. "Singapore is their destination of choice and I said, we hope so too - that they can work here."

Mr Shanmugam, who spoke in Tamil and English to more than 70 workers from India and Bangla-desh, told them that the COVID-19 outbreak was happening in other countries as well and sought their understanding for the current measures implemented.

He also asked the workers to report to the authorities if their employers do not pay them.

Also at the dialogue were Nominated MP Arasu Duraisamy, who is also NTUC secretary for financial affairs and general secretary of the Singapore Port Workers' Union, and Bangladeshi-born businessman Muhammed Aziz Khan, founder and chairman of the Summit Group, who spoke to the workers in Bengali.

The Westlite Papan dormitory currently houses about 5,700 workers. It has no confirmed COVID-19 cases so far. As of Tuesday, 28 out of the 43 purpose-built dormitories have known clusters.

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health said workers in all dormitories will no longer be allowed daily movement in and out, including going to work, until May 4. About 10,000 workers in essential services have already moved out of dormitories to alternative accommodation.

Speaking to reporters, Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister, said that other than their salaries, workers might be concerned about medical support and their living conditions.

"I said, look, if you are not well, please report sick. We are aggressively testing even those who are asymptomatic. But please report and you will be taken care of," he said, giving the example of Singapore's 42nd COVID-19 patient, a 39-year-old Bangladeshi worker who was transferred out of the intensive care unit after being there for more than two months.

He noted that workers said they had no issues with their food when asked, and that Wi-Fi connectivity has been boosted so they can contact their families regularly.

Asked about the case of a work pass holder who was stripped of his pass for breaching circuit breaker measures earlier this month, Mr Shanmugam said: "I think the message has to go out very clearly, that if you breach the rules, very severe action will be taken.

"We want to stop the spread, and everyone has to observe the rules."

180,000 foreign workers in the construction industry and their dependants will be on stay-home notices starting 20 April 2020
They join thousands already isolated in dorms; another 596 cases confirmed here
By Wong Kai Yi, The Straits Times, 20 Apr 2020

Around 180,000 foreign workers in the construction industry and their dependants will be on stay-home notices starting today, 20 April, as the number of coronavirus infections continues to rise.

The notices apply mostly to work permit and S Pass holders currently not staying in dormitories, as well as their dependants.

The figure, given by the Manpower Ministry yesterday in response to queries from The Straits Times, comes after Saturday's announcement that all work permit and S Pass holders in the construction industry will undergo a mandatory 14-day stay-home notice from today to May 4.

This move, which aims to prevent further transmission of the coronavirus at work sites, excludes workers staying in the 18 dormitories now gazetted as isolation areas, or any foreign employee dormitory, as special arrangements have already been made for them. There are 284,300 work permit holders in the construction industry.

The 180,000 workers and their dependants affected by the stay-home notice requirement are now staying in factory-converted dormitories, temporary quarters on construction sites and private residential premises such as shophouses.

About 27,000, or 15 per cent, of the 180,000, mostly S Pass holders and their dependants, live in Housing Board flats.

The 180,000 also include a "small percentage" of the 7,000 healthy workers who have been moved to alternative living areas such as military camps, floating hotels and sports halls, said MOM.

But employers can apply for some of their workers to be exempted to carry out essential services like mosquito control at construction sites. Such appeals will have to be approved by the Building and Construction Authority (BCA), and the number of workers allowed to leave their residences during the stay-home period to do such work will also be limited, according to an advisory.

In addition, employers who previously had workers classified as essential have to reapply to BCA to be exempted again, as the latest rule supersedes earlier approvals.

Yesterday, another 596 cases of COVID-19 infection were reported, bringing the national total to 6,588. The vast majority are work permit holders staying in foreign worker dormitories.

The late announcement on Saturday caught some in the building industry off guard, with contractors having just yesterday to make arrangements for their workers.

Mr Chan Ewe Jin, a council member of the Institution of Engineers Singapore, said contractors got word of the stay-home notice at "very short notice" but said that, "understandably, things develop very quickly and we all have to work towards supporting this (move) to mitigate the situation". He added that many in the construction sector are seeking clarification from BCA on the measures.

Mr Chan, who is also managing director of engineering firm ECAS Consultants, said the stay-home measure may not have a long-term impact on firms as it coincides with the circuit breaker period. But some firms could face a shortage of staff to do essential work, he added.

Meanwhile, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said yesterday that worker dormitories able to accommodate 2,900 people are being built in Changi East.

Photos on Mr Khaw's Facebook post showed what looked like prefabricated dorms being built, with double-deck bunk beds and a gym with a cross-trainer and weights.

The dorms will house workers building Changi Airport's Terminal 5. Mr Khaw noted that most construction projects nationwide have been suspended but "some urgent projects", such as Changi's third runway, have been exempted.

The Ministry of Defence also said yesterday that it is recruiting former Singapore Armed Forces regulars to support the teams deployed at foreign worker dormitories.

Over 62,000 employers to get $675 million in foreign worker levy rebates
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 22 Apr 2020

Over 62,000 employers started getting their share of nearly $675 million in foreign worker levy rebates from yesterday, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

This comes as Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday that he would extend these rebates by another month, to ease labour costs with the circuit breaker period getting extended.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, had said on April 6 that employers will get a levy rebate of $750 for each work permit or S Pass holder to support firms during the circuit breaker period.

The payouts are on top of the waiver of such levies for this month that he announced in the Solidarity Budget, which Mr Heng yesterday said would also be extended for another month.

To be eligible for the levy rebates, employers need to have paid at least one month of levy due this year, have S Pass or work pass holders on active passes, and their companies must be "live", according to the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority. They should also not be government entities.

To be counted for the levy rebates, their S Pass and work permit holders also need to be in their employ as of Feb 29.

Employers can check their eligibility and the amount they will receive at this website.

They do not need to apply for the levy rebate and they will be informed once it is paid to them, said MOM.

Employers who signed up for PayNow Corporate would have got their rebate yesterday. Others can sign up online or via mobile banking by April 29 to get the levy rebate the following day, though MOM noted the time each bank requires to approve the PayNow Corporate account differs.

Otherwise employers will receive the rebate via cheque from May 15.

Those who hire foreign domestic workers are not eligible for any levy rebates, but MOM said households are supported "on multiple fronts".

These include cash payouts for every Singaporean adult and parents with at least one Singaporean child, it said, adding that the Resilience and Solidarity budgets together will give payouts of up to $1,600 per individual this year.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) said the extensions to both the levy rebate and waivers are meant to ease the labour costs of firms that employ foreign workers during this period.

As with the initial introduction of the waiver and rebate, this assistance will support firms with workers who are unable to work due to the circuit breaker and stay-home notice measures, said MOF.

"Firms should use the assistance for their workers' wages and subsistence needs," it said, adding that MOM will provide further details.


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