Starting next week, workplaces islandwide except those of essential services and key sectors will close as a part of a new suite of measures to curb further spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Singapore.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his televised address on the COVID-19 situation in Singapore on Fri afternoon (3 Apr) said that essential services encompass food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services.
“Essential services will continue running so that all of us can cope with this new situation,” he said.
“You can still shop at the supermarket or wet market, and you need not rush to stock up for weeks at a time,” Mr Lee added.
Singaporeans can also still “buy food from your favourite hawker centres or coffeeshops” for takeaway to be enjoyed at home with their families “rather than hang out and eat outside with your friends”, he said.
Those working in “strategic” economic sectors or those that “form part of a global supply chain” are also exempted from the workplace closure. However, they are urged to work with “safe-distancing measures in place”.
Mr Lee encouraged those who can work from home to do so.
“We have to ensure that most of our workforce stays at home and limit their physical interaction to as few people as possible,” he stressed.
However, Mr Lee noted that certain workers such as “foreign workers on construction sites and in shipyards” will not be able to do the same.
“These workers live in dormitories, and we will make arrangements to look after them,” he said.
The closure will take effect from next Tue (7 Apr).
MOE to work with schools and higher learning institutions to fully implement home-based learning
Mr Lee also said that following a smooth trial of home-based learning this week, the Ministry of Education (MOE) will be working with schools and higher learning institutions to roll out full home-based learning starting next Wed (8 Apr).
All preschool and student care centres will also be closed, he added.
However, the preschools and student care centres will provide “limited services for children of parents who have to continue working and are unable to make alternative care arrangements”.
Tighter movement restrictions; people encouraged to confine interactions to those living in the same household
The Government, said Mr Lee, will also tighten its restrictions on the people’s movements and gatherings.
He urged Singapore to stay at home as much as possible, avoid socialising with others beyond their own household, and confining gatherings to those living in the same household.
“Avoid visiting even your extended families who are not staying with you, especially if they are elderly or vulnerable,” Mr Lee added.
People should also only leave their homes to carry out essential activities such as work for those in essential services and key economic sectors, buying groceries at markets, to take away food from restaurants and hawker centres, or “to exercise in the neighbourhood park, keeping a safe distance from others”, he stressed.
“The spirit of these measures is to get all of us to minimise physical contact … If we don’t go out, if we avoid contact with others, then the virus won’t be able to spread,” said Mr Lee.
Mr Lee also assured Singaporeans that the country has “enough food supplies to last this period and beyond”.
Noting that Singapore has been witnessing over 50 new cases daily compared to fewer than 10 new cases daily at the start of the outbreak in the country, Mr Lee said that the multi-ministry taskforce on COVID-19 has decided to “impose significantly stricter measures” to curb local spread of the virus.
The enhanced measures, he said, will act as a “circuit-breaker” in terms of slowing down or even stopping local transmission of COVID-19.
Touching on the rationale behind implementing the “circuit-breaker” measures, Mr Lee said that such measures “will help reduce the risk of a big outbreak occurring” and “should also help to gradually bring our numbers down”.
“This circuit breaker will apply for one month, in the first instance,” he added.
Mr Lee acknowledged that the new measures “will impact our workers and businesses severely” on top of “an already difficult time”.
Thus, he said that Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat will announce in Parliament next Mon (6 Apr) “additional support” for households and businesses “over and above what was provided” in the Unity and Resilience Budgets earlier.
Mr Lee also said that Parliament will also require landlords to “pass on property tax rebates in full” to their tenants.
“We will also pass new temporary legislation to let businesses and individuals defer certain contractual obligations for a period,” he added.
Such contractual obligations include paying rent, repaying loans, and completing work.
Mr Lee acknowledges that safe distancing is difficult “for a psychological and emotional reason: it goes very much against our human instincts”.
“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.
“I fully understand this … but I hope you will also understand why we all have to take social distancing extremely seriously in this period,” he said.
Mr Lee said the stringent safe distancing measures such as those implemented by the government are “the only effective way to slow the transmission of the virus, so that we gradually bring our numbers down”.
“It is also the best way to keep our families safe, and particularly to protect our seniors from getting ill,” he said.