Sunday 31 May 2020

COVID-19: What workers should look out for during this period

Employers should not adopt unfair practices and dismiss workers for no good reason. Other legal issues abound: Does workplace compensation kick in when one works from home?
By Patrick Tay Teck Guan, Published The Straits Times, 30 May 2020

You may have heard some of the horror stories.

Out of the blue, an employee receives an e-mail from her employer, informing her that she will be required to work for only two days a week and her salary will be reduced. In this case, neither consultation was sought, nor consent given.

Or how about the employee who has always performed above satisfaction at work - only to be dismissed without notice due to "poor performance".

In its recent monetary policy statement, the Monetary Authority of Singapore warned that "the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a severe contraction in economic activity both in Singapore and globally".

As a result, many businesses have been disrupted - some had to shutter for good, others had to fundamentally rethink their business model, and some had to cut labour costs to sustain their businesses.

What does this mean, especially for employees during COVID-19? What are some issues workers should watch out for during such a volatile employment period?


There is a danger that companies going through rough patches will use unfair practices to reduce work hours or even to get rid of workers. These are some common practices:

First, in coping with operational costs, employers may resort to adjusting employees' working hours and salaries.

However, this must be mutually agreed upon between both employer and employee. Taking the example that was cited at the onset, employers should not unilaterally make changes to employment terms and conditions without the employee's consent.

This is included in the guidelines set out in the advisory on salary and leave arrangements during circuit breaker. Any employer that needs to implement such changes during this period should do so only after having consulted the union (if the company is unionised) and/or its employees, and sought and obtained their consent. Agreed changes should then be clearly documented and acknowledged by both parties.

Second, another tell-tale sign when employers are trying to get rid of employees is when employees who are doing the same job are suddenly given poor performance ratings, when they have always been graded well.

Employers cannot dismiss employees without notice for poor performance. If doing so, the onus is also on the employer to provide evidence of the poor performance.

Third, another modus operandi that may be used by employers is to intentionally exclude an employee from meetings and remove the employee's responsibilities, materially changing the employee's original job scope. Often, in such instances, the employee often feels isolated and will resign as a result.

Fourth, retrenchments can be disguised.

Under case law and tripartite guidelines, retrenchment happens when an employee's contract of service is terminated by the employer due to redundancy or any reorganisation of the employer's profession, business, trade or work.

In a bid to prevent companies from looking to retrenchment as the first resort, the Government has rolled out extensive support measures through the Unity, Resilience, Solidarity and Fortitude Budgets.

The Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) pays a substantial portion of workers' wages for several months, thus helping companies with cash flow, ensuring that they consider retrenching workers only when other options are exhausted.

Should a company have to retrench workers, retrenchment benefits should be paid in accordance with the employment contract or collective agreement; if there is no such prior agreement, tripartite advisories state that the quantum of retrenchment benefits should range from two weeks to one month's salary per year of service.

The recent advisory on retrenchment benefits further outlines how companies should provide fair retrenchment benefits to retrenched workers, and how they should go about ensuring "fair retrenchment", for example, in the selection of employees for retrenchments, early consultation with unions, early and open communication and employment facilitation for employees.

However, I know of workers who have encountered instances where employers, in a bid to "cut costs", disguise the retrenchment as a mere "contractual termination" of employment so that they only need to serve notice and give notice pay, to avoid paying the employee a fair retrenchment package. Many times, it has come to light that the very same position had actually been made redundant, and the employee who was given notice had been robbed of what should have been rightfully paid out to him or her, in the form of a retrenchment package.

It is an unfortunate reality that the prolonged period of business closure due to the ongoing pandemic means more companies will be tempted to take this route of disguised retrenchment.

Sadly, some employers get away with it, perhaps because workers are not aware of their rights, or fear to take action. To make it foolproof, some employers even provide notice pay and do not give any reasons for the contractual termination so as not to be challenged, especially in a non-unionised environment.

The question then is this: What more can be done to better protect, assist and support workers, especially our professionals, managers and executives who face contractual termination or disguised retrenchments?

Friday 29 May 2020

Singapore could move to Phase 2 of COVID-19 reopening before end-June 2020

Task force fleshes out plans for next steps in reopening Singapore economy
It will decide in mid-June whether to move to phase two of process by end of the month
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 29 May 2020

Even as Singapore prepares for the lifting of the circuit breaker measures on Tuesday, 2 June, a ministerial task force yesterday fleshed out plans for how the country might move on to phase two of opening up the economy by the end of next month.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that a decision will be made in mid-June on whether conditions are right for Singapore to allow a broader range of activities by the end of the month.

This move into phase two of Singapore's calibrated reopening will hinge on keeping the community spread of COVID-19 low and stable over the next two weeks, he said, adding the caveat that the time-line could change, given how fluid the situation is.

If this timeline is given the go-ahead, then, subject to restrictions, people will be able to dine in at food outlets, exercise at stadiums, visit swimming pools and have small gatherings before the end of next month.

"We will decide by the middle of June on whether we want to take the next step to move to phase two," said Mr Wong, who is co-chair of the multi-ministry task force tackling the coronavirus pandemic.

But for this to happen, fellow co-chair and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong stressed the importance of exercising caution even after Tuesday, when Singapore exits the circuit breaker and enters the first phase of its reopening: "I think if we start with a big bang party, we are going to get into trouble."

About 75 per cent of the economy can resume operations in phase one, which the authorities had earlier said would last four to six weeks but may now give way to phase two earlier. In the first phase, schools will gradually restart, and more Singaporeans will return to workplaces, though dining in will still not be allowed.

Almost the entire economy is expected to reopen in phase two. Retail shops and consumer services can open for business, but masks will still be compulsory for anyone stepping outside his home.

Eateries will reopen but no more than five diners will be allowed per table at food and beverage outlets, including hawker centres. Tables will have to be placed at least 1m apart.

Mr Wong said people will be able to catch up with their friends and relatives, but social gatherings will be capped at five per group. He said the number struck a "reasonable balance" between the risks involved and allowing families to meet.

Meanwhile, some activities - which involve close contact in enclosed spaces - are deemed to carry higher risk of transmission and may be allowed to resume only later in phase two, when sufficient safety measures are in place. These include going to cinemas, religious services, bars and clubs.

"All of these venues, based on our experience and overseas experience, have been instances where there have been cases of transmissions in such settings, and so we want to take a more cautious approach for activities in these areas to resume," said Mr Wong.

Stressing that things can change if the situation worsens, he added that the task force was sharing its plans so that businesses can start planning ahead. "But importantly, those that are looking ahead to reopen should make use of this time now to start preparing and putting in place all the necessary safeguards and precautions."

Asked if the timeline had been moved forward on account of pressure from businesses, Mr Wong said the timeline "is premised on what we think is safe to do from a public health point of view".

Meanwhile, Singapore announced a change in discharge criteria for its COVID-19 patients. Mr Gan said all those who are assessed to be clinically well by the 21st day of their illness can be discharged. Previously, they needed two negative swab tests, 24 hours apart.

As a further precaution, these patients must stay at home or in their dormitories for a further seven days.

DPM Heng Swee Keat on Singapore GE: The sooner we get it done, the earlier we can rally everybody together to fight COVID-19

COVID-19 crisis poses challenges over next 5-10 years: DPM Heng Swee Keat
Country needs to rally together to tackle them and also deal with very significant uncertainties
By Toh Wen Li, The Straits Times, 28 May 2020

Singapore's economy faces significant long-term challenges that need to be dealt with over the next five to 10 years, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

And the sooner the general election is held, he said, "the earlier we can rally everybody together to deal with these very significant challenges ahead, and also to deal with these very significant uncertainties in the months and years ahead".

Singapore's next election must take place by April 14 next year, and Mr Heng's remarks, in an interview with TV station CNA, are the strongest hint by a minister to date that the polls could be called soon.

Asked whether Singaporeans will have to wait until phase three of resuming economic activity before the election, Mr Heng said: "The sooner that we can deal with the longer-term challenges, the better Singaporeans will emerge out of this, and Singapore will emerge stronger.

"So I would say that, yes, elections are coming nearer by the day, and you have to be prepared for it. If you look at what other countries have done, they have been able to do it (hold an election), even under very difficult circumstances. South Korea has done it and in fact, they had a record turnout."

"When we do so, the public health considerations and public safety will be a foremost consideration," he said. "Even the way in which elections are to be conducted will be different from before."

A law allowing special, temporary arrangements to be implemented, if the election takes place amid the coronavirus pandemic, came into operation on Tuesday.

The Parliamentary Elections (COVID-19 Special Arrangements) Act allows some voters who are under stay-home notices to vote under special arrangements, and lets aspiring candidates authorise a representative to file nomination papers for them if they are unable or unfit to do so.

On Tuesday, Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, announced a $33 billion supplementary Budget - Singapore's fourth support package this year. The Fortitude Budget, as it is called, aims to help workers and businesses tide over the COVID-19 crisis and the grim economic outlook. Combined with the three earlier Budgets, it takes the total amount the Government is dedicating to this cause to $92.9 billion.

The latest Budget requires a draw of $31 billion from past reserves. Altogether, the Government is looking at drawing up to $52 billion from past reserves this financial year.

"Our financial position will be a lot weaker in the coming years. And I'm thinking hard about this, about what we need to do, and how we need to continue to find ways that we can manage this difficult financial situation," Mr Heng told CNA.

"For now, the most important thing is first, keep our people safe. And second, let's get the economy going again, as much as possible. It will not be easy. But if we put our minds to it, we can emerge stronger. And with that, we can begin to rebuild our resources over time."

In the latest Budget, Mr Heng also set aside $13 billion in the Contingencies Fund and the Development Contingencies Fund, for urgent, unforeseen expenditures - more than the $3 billion set aside every year for both funds - to "respond swiftly to a rapidly changing situation".

He said: "I hope that we do not need to have a fifth Budget in order to respond, because if the situation deteriorates, it is going to be very, very fast."

A key focus is protecting jobs, including enhancing the Jobs Support Scheme that co-pays salaries to help firms retain workers.

A new SGUnited Jobs and Skills Package will also create 40,000 jobs, 25,000 traineeships and 30,000 paid skills-training places - about 100,000 positions in total.

Asked if the Government expects 100,000 jobs to be lost in the next few months, Mr Heng said: "There is a range of projections on the expected job losses. We have taken that into account, together with the number of new entrants that enter the labour market every year. So, this is how we've sized it, and I believe that for now, that will be sufficient. But if there is a need for us to do even more, we have the resources to do that."

Wednesday 27 May 2020

Fortitude Budget: Singapore Government sets aside $33 billion more to help workers, businesses in fourth COVID-19 support package

$33 billion set aside in Fortitude Budget, Singapore's fourth Budget in less than four months, bringing Singapore's COVID-19 war chest to nearly $100 billion
Unprecedented crisis calls for landmark package to help Singaporeans: DPM Heng Swee Keat
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 27 May 2020

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday announced a $33 billion supplementary Budget aimed primarily at helping workers and businesses pull through the COVID-19 pandemic and the bleak economic outlook ahead.

Called the Fortitude Budget, Singapore's fourth Budget in less than four months sets aside $2.9 billion to extend job protection and co-pay salaries to help firms retain workers. It also provides for the $3.8 billion that went towards helping Singaporeans tide over the extension of the circuit breaker measures.

Together with the earlier Unity, Resilience and Solidarity Budgets, the Government is dedicating close to $100 billion - or nearly 20 per cent of gross domestic product - to support Singaporeans in this battle against COVID-19, said Mr Heng, who called it "a landmark package, and a necessary response to an unprecedented crisis".

Singapore's economy has been deeply impacted by the global shocks caused by COVID-19, said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, as he introduced the Budget in Parliament.

He noted that the resident unemployment rate rose to 3.3 per cent in March, the highest in over a decade. The economy is now expected to shrink between 4 per cent and 7 per cent this year, potentially Singapore's worst recession since independence.

Still, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Republic is in a strong position to overcome this crisis and emerge stronger due to the Pioneer Generation's sacrifices and stewardship, and the fiscal prudence and discipline of successive governments.

"Saving and creating jobs will be our priority," wrote PM Lee on Facebook yesterday, while stressing that no one will be left behind.

"We will help businesses adapt and transform, create new jobs and provide more training opportunities to workers."

Mr Heng also underscored the focus on jobs. Payments under the Jobs Support Scheme will be extended by one month to provide more relief to firms as they reopen after the circuit breaker period.

In total, the Government will disburse $23.5 billion to support firms' wage costs for 10 months, said Mr Heng.

Businesses such as retail outlets, gyms and cinemas that cannot reopen immediately after the circuit breaker period ends on June 1 will continue receiving 75 per cent wage support until August or when they can resume operations, whichever is earlier.

There will also be help for businesses in the construction and offshore and marine sectors which cannot resume operations on-site for now. They will see the foreign worker levy waiver and rebate extended for up to two months.

Business costs will be cut further as the planned increase in Central Provident Fund contribution rates for senior workers will be deferred by one year to January 2022.

As a landlord, the Government will lead by example by providing two more months of rental waivers for commercial tenants and hawkers, and one more month of rental waivers for industrial, office and agricultural tenants.

A Bill will be introduced next week mandating that landlords grant a rental waiver to their tenants who are small and medium-sized enterprises and have suffered a significant revenue drop.

Households with at least one Singapore citizen will also get a one-off $100 Solidarity Utilities Credit to offset their utility bills, on top of the U-Save Special Payment that was previously announced.

Mr Heng also launched an SG United Jobs and Skills Package to create close to 100,000 opportunities in three areas - 40,000 jobs, 25,000 traineeships and 30,000 paid skills training places.

This Budget will require a further $31 billion to be drawn from past reserves, which President Halimah Yacob has given in-principle support for. In all, the Government is looking at drawing up to $52 billion from the reserves this financial year, said Mr Heng.

"While we will try to preserve jobs in the midst of this crisis, we cannot protect every job," he said. "However, you have my assurance that the Government will protect every worker."

"Our promise to workers is this: As long as you are willing to pick up new skills and adapt, to access available opportunities to work or learn, the Government will provide our strongest support to help you."

Parliament will debate the Budget when it next sits on June 4.

Monday 25 May 2020

At ground zero: First-line defenders at National Centre for Infectious Diseases COVID-19 screening centre

For those manning the COVID-19 screening centre at Tan Tock Seng Hospital-National Centre For Infectious Diseases (TTSH-NCID), going eight hours without a loo break, playing agony aunt and facing down their fears are all in a day's work
By Wong Kim Hoh, Deputy Life Editor, The Sunday Times, 24 May 2020

On the first day of Chinese New Year in January, Dr Ang Hou cooked, as he usually did, for his extended family who came to visit.

But his mind was not on the claypot rice he was making - his attention distracted by the constant WhatsApp messages coming through on his phone.

"I'd usually cook more, and make sio bak," he says, referring to Chinese roast pork. "But I was in no mood; in fact, I was a bit antisocial that day," says the head of the emergency department (ED) at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).

And understandably so, because he knew he had a big battle on his hands, with a coronavirus causing a disease which the world now knows as COVID-19. The enemy had, at that time, already pummelled Wuhan, bringing the Chinese city to its knees, and was starting to assault other parts of China and the rest of the world.

Two days before, on Jan 23, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Singapore: a 66-year-old Chinese national from Wuhan who flew in from Guangzhou. The following day, two more cases surfaced. Dr Ang knew the numbers would grow. Having experienced SARS and H1N1, the authorities moved fast and turned the National Centre For Infectious Diseases (NCID) - which last year took over the functions of TTSH's former Communicable Disease Centre - into ground zero for Singapore's response to this new virus.

Dr Ang and his ED staff were tasked with setting up and running a daily 24-hour screening centre, with additional manpower support from TTSH.

On top of leading the charge in fighting the virus, they still have to run TTSH's ED, the busiest ED among all the hospitals in Singapore. On a typical day, they handle at least 400 medical emergencies, ranging from heart attacks, strokes and severe infections to accidents and emerging infectious diseases.


Dr Ang and company were chosen to be first-line defenders for a reason. They are professionals used to crisis management, and trained to multitask, work under pressure and remain calm amid chaos.

The ED, after all, is the entry point to other areas of medical care.

Set up in just two days, the screening centre was up and running on Jan 29. Initially designed and equipped to test more than 100 patients a day, it can now accommodate - with the addition of two tents - more than 280 people.

Nearly 400 nurses, allied health workers and operations personnel from other departments in TTSH have been deployed here until the pandemic is over. On the medical side, an extra 51 doctors from the surgery division are also attached here - at any given time - to help the 20 to 25 ED doctors on daily duty.

Before the screening centre was set up, suspected COVID-19 cases were tested in a fever room which could accommodate only 29 people, seated 2m apart.

"It's the nature of the ED to move fast," says Dr Ang who has been working in the department since 2002 and took over as head in 2018.

"We're always on the lookout for things happening in the world, like outbreaks of diseases. So we're on a year-round surveillance for TTSH," says the father of three who first heard of the virus last December while on holiday with his family.

The likelihood of a pandemic like COVID-19 erupting was never in doubt. It was a question of when, not if, says Dr Ang.

"We were setting up the screening centre even before we got the official go-ahead from the Ministry of Health. You don't know the scale but you have to be ready," says the doctor who has donned his personal protective equipment (PPE) each time Singapore was threatened by a virus, from SARS to MERS to H1N1.

As it turned out, COVID-19 is, in more ways than one, a show-stopper. Globally, it has already infected more than five million people and claimed more than 330,00 lives. In comparison, there were only about 8,000 cases of SARS worldwide and 774 deaths.

In Singapore, the number of COVID-19 infections has gone past 30,000, with 23 deaths.

Saturday 23 May 2020

Singapore residents to get improved version of reusable masks from 26 May to 14 June 2020, as part of the third mask collection exercise

New free masks more comfortable, have better filtration
Residents can collect them from CCs, RCs or vending machines from Tuesday, 26 May
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 22 May 2020

Singapore residents can collect new reusable masks from Tuesday, in a third mask distribution exercise that will span three weeks.

The latest distribution of these masks - which are more comfortable to wear and have better filtration qualities - will take place until June 14. The previous two rounds in February and April lasted about a week each.

About six million reusable masks have been prepared for this exercise, similar to the previous one. Collection counters will be set up at 109 community clubs (CCs) and 661 residents' committee centres (RCs) across Singapore.

This time, residents can also pick them up from 24-hour vending machines. About 400 machines will be placed at all CCs for those unable to pick up their free masks from the collection counters.

Residents with a valid identification card can collect one reusable mask each. This includes foreign domestic workers, foreign workers not living in dormitories and international students living in hostels. The Manpower Ministry will distribute masks to foreign workers living in dormitories.

Residents who want to pick up their masks from CCs or RCs can do so only from 10am to 6pm daily during the first week of the collection period, from Tuesday to June 1.

Those who want to collect their masks from vending machines can do so at any time during the three-week period.

This will give everyone access to the masks without having to rush for them, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing told reporters yesterday during a visit to Pek Kio Community Centre.

The vending machines, provided by Temasek Foundation, will be operational from 10am on Tuesday. Each machine has an attached guide comprising three steps on how to collect the masks.

The reusable masks, available in adult and children sizes, use new materials to improve their comfort and resistance to droplets.

They are made of at least three layers of material and have a filtration efficiency of at least 95 per cent, even after 30 washes.

Mr Chan, who is also deputy chairman of the People's Association, said the Government had distributed the first generation of reusable masks last month because they were the "fastest available" at that time.

It was already looking for newer materials to make better masks back then, he added. "So, there was a gap between the first batch of reusable masks, which was a basic cloth material, and the second batch of reusable masks, which is an improved cloth material."

To avoid crowding at the collection points, residents are encouraged to collect the masks on behalf of those who live with them. They have to bring along their household members' identification cards, birth certificates or any government-issued identification with a barcode.

Safe distancing measures and temperature taking will be in place at the collection points. The high-touch areas of the vending machines are treated with a self-disinfecting coating that can last for three months. The machines will be cleaned and restocked regularly.

Priority for children-size masks will be given to those aged 12 years old and below.

Mr Chan said stockpiling masks for future disruptions has to be an ongoing effort.

"Nobody knows how long and how widespread this pandemic will be, and one should never be complacent about any supply lines, including masks," he added.

Friday 22 May 2020

COVID-19 pandemic hastens Singapore’s Smart Nation drive

With enterprises, institutions, workers, students and families going digital, Singapore is speeding up its embrace of digitalisation
By Irene Tham, Tech Editor, The Straits Times, 21 May 2020

Digitalise or die.

The choice has never been so stark, and the consequence so immediate, as cities come to a standstill amid the raging COVID-19 pandemic that is forcing governments to shut down offices and schools to reduce transmission risks.

Overnight, many private and public institutions in Singapore have had to think of new ways to continue their operations as tightened safe distancing measures forbid eating out and mandate shutdowns of non-essential businesses.

The swift adoption of digital alternatives - from the rise in cashless payments to the use of messaging and social media tools to promote and sell hawker food - has been nothing short of startling.

In many ways, COVID-19 has accelerated digital transformation here, giving Singapore's Smart Nation projects a much-needed push.


Physical handling of coins and notes is viewed as a viral risk, spurring many to go for cashless options.

The volume of cash withdrawals and deposits at Singapore's largest bank, DBS Bank, fell by an unprecedented 11 per cent during the three months from January to March compared with the same period last year. The rate of decline in cash transactions had hovered at around 5 per cent yearly since 2017.

Instant digital payment transfers have spiked for all banking customers. The Association of Banks in Singapore said 34.4 million PayNow transactions - instant payments using mobile phone numbers - were made from January to last month, nearly double last year's figure.

PayNow Corporate transaction numbers - payments received by organisations - went up five times from 600,000 to three million in the same timeframe.

Also, half a million migrant workers now have bank accounts.

Employers set up these accounts to pay salaries as physically contacting these workers was not possible after Singapore entered circuit breaker mode on April 7, requiring many businesses and schools to shut down and most people to work and study from home.

NDP 2020: Together, A Stronger Singapore

National Day Parade 2020: Focus on celebrating at home, many segments moved to the heartland and smaller-scale evening show

It will have no central location, fewer participants and be split into two shows

NDP exco to produce packs for 80% of households; those who want one can collect them from CCs
By Lim Min Zhang, The Straits Times, 21 May 2020

In a nod to these sombre times, this year's National Day Parade (NDP) will do away with large crowds and a central location - for the first time - and drastically reduce participant numbers to stick with COVID-19 guidelines.

But NDP 2020 plans to involve more Singaporeans than ever before by shifting many parade segments into the heartland and handing out about 1.2 million funpacks to all local households.

Brigadier-General Frederick Choo, chairman of this year's NDP executive committee, said during a virtual media briefing yesterday: "This year's NDP will be the first of its kind, in a format that Singaporeans have never seen before. For the first time, we will be bringing NDP across the island into every Singaporean home. NDP will look, sound and feel very different from what we are used to."

For the first time, for example, the parade is being split into morning and evening shows and held across multiple locations instead of a central one such as the floating platform in Marina Bay.

Singapore's 55th birthday bash on Aug 9 will be streamed live over television and Internet platforms.

The morning show will start with a nationwide broadcast of the Prime Minister's National Day Message and a "dignified and compact parade" at the Padang, reviewed by the President.

Around 200 participants will be involved in the parade - compared with about 1,800 people last year.

To bring the NDP "into every Singaporean home", the state flag and F-15SG fighter jets will be flown around the island.

The Red Lions free-fall jump will also take place in different locations, paying tribute to front-line workers against COVID-19. Meanwhile, the mobile column will travel through neighbourhoods.

The morning proceedings will be accompanied by flag-raising ceremonies across Singapore during the singing of the National Anthem.

An evening show at The Star Performing Arts Centre in Buona Vista will feature films and performances by Singaporeans, culminating in a fireworks display at over 10 sites across the country. Only 80 to 100 performers will take part - down from 2,600 last year - with safe distancing measures in place.

In between the morning and evening segments, Singaporeans will be able to participate in various virtual and home activities, such as an NDP-themed workout and a family cooking activity.

"Like the past 54 NDPs, NDP 2020 will be an unyielding reminder that Singapore will keep going on. COVID-19 will not deter us, we will continue to celebrate, but differently," said BG Choo, who is commander of the Singapore Army's 3rd Singapore Division.

He added that the health and welfare of participants are of the utmost importance.

No rehearsals have been held so far, though they typically start in March. Rehearsals will begin only after the circuit breaker period ends on June 1.

There will also not be any national education or preview shows this year, BG Choo said.

At the moment, there are no plans to allow spectators to attend either the parade or the evening show. The committee also aims to ensure crowds do not form to watch highlights such as the mobile column.

Unlike previous years, there will not be large numbers of people from the Singapore Soka Association, People's Association or Ministry of Education taking part.

Performers will largely be from the Home Team, Singapore Armed Forces, and Music and Drama Company, and include some local artists.

Asked if there could be a scenario in which this year's NDP would be scrapped, BG Choo said that since the committee started work in July last year, and with the situation developing, its members were determined to have an NDP on Aug 9 "come what may".

"We believe that as long as there is a Singapore, there will be an NDP," he said.

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Singapore's COVID-19 circuit breaker ends on 1 June 2020; economy to reopen in three phases

Ministers spell out road map to keep nation safe and restart businesses over next months
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 20 May 2020

Singapore's circuit breaker will formally end on June 1, as the country gradually restarts its economy in three phases over the next several months.

This will not mean a return to life before the coronavirus, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday, outlining the broad plan for the months ahead.

Singapore will proceed with caution in the first phase, where many existing restrictions will continue. This phase is expected to last at least four weeks.

If all goes well, it will then move into the second transitionary phase, which could spread over several months.

Further easing of measures would follow in the third phase, where a "new normal" will remain until an effective vaccine or treatment is found.

New cases are expected to rise as people gradually resume activities, and stricter measures could be implemented at any point if the situation worsens.

While some may be disappointed that they will not be able to go out freely and socialise at the end of the circuit breaker, the reopening needs to be done carefully, said Mr Wong at a press conference yesterday.

"We have to do this in a careful and calibrated manner as we don't want to risk a flaring up of the virus. And importantly, we do not want to sacrifice the efforts all of us have put into controlling the outbreak," he said.

He added that the Government will continue to support businesses and workers that are unable to open on June 2.

In the first phase, dubbed "safe reopening", about a third of Singapore's workers will be able to resume work at their workplaces, said Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing. The rest will continue to work from home.

"This will allow three-quarters of our economy to resume normal operations," he said.

Priority will be given to critical sectors and businesses that operate in settings with lower transmission risks. Those returning to their workplaces or offices include workers or staff who are required to use machinery or specialised terminals.

Meanwhile, retail stores will stay closed, and there will be no dining in at restaurants, during this period.

Schools will gradually reopen next month and certain healthcare services will resume. Places of worship will also reopen, but only for private worship.

Social gatherings will still be prohibited, although exceptions will be made for people visiting their parents or grandparents. Visits will be limited to one a day, with a maximum of two visitors who should be from the same household.

Singapore will move into the second phase if community transmission rates remain "low and stable" and the dormitory situation remains under control.

In this "safe transition" phase, people will gradually be able to resume more social activities. More businesses will be allowed to reopen, including retail outlets, gyms and fitness studios as well as tuition and enrichment centres.

In this phase, which could last several months, small social gatherings and dining in at food and beverage outlets may be allowed.

The idea is to take the country towards its new normal phase called "safe nation", in which social, cultural, religious and business gatherings are expected to resume. However, limits will be put in place on gathering sizes.

Similarly, places offering services that involve prolonged close contact, such as massages, or with crowds in enclosed spaces, such as cinemas, will reopen only with strict safety management measures in place.

On public transport, commuters will have to wear masks and refrain from talking.

Singapore will also gradually reopen its borders for essential travel. However, this will be carried out separately from the three phases of restarting its economy as the global situation remains volatile.