The prohibition on social gatherings of any size — in both public and private spaces — are among the provisions listed in a new Bill aimed at giving legal effect to the Government’s efforts to curb community spread of COVID-19 in Singapore.
Debating the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill in Parliament on Tue (7 Apr), Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that the proposed legislation will enable the Government to “better regulate events and gatherings, including those that take place on private properties”.
Should the Bill be passed, private parties and gatherings with families or friends not living in the same household — at home or in public spaces such as in parks and Housing Board void decks — will be prohibited or at least restricted under the order of the Health Minister.
The proposed legislation, if passed, will also enable the minister to limit the movement and interactions of persons at their place of residence and other places, as well as residents’ usage of common areas such as void decks, and shared facilities in HDB estates and private condominiums.
Mr Gan, who co-chairs the multi-ministry taskforce on COVID-19, said that while most Singaporeans act responsibly by being compliant towards the measures, he said that “there will inevitably be a few individuals who do not treat the situation seriously and blatantly disregard the rules”.
Thus, for those who engage in acts such as loitering instead of staying at home or violating safe distancing measures at markets and F&B outlets, Mr Gan said that the Government “will not hesitate to take action against such persons”.
Stringent action, he stressed, will “send a strong signal to prevent such behaviour from negating our collective efforts during this crucial circuit breaker to slow down the infection”.
Similar to the Infectious Diseases Act, those found guilty of flouting the relevant Government measures can be fined up to S$10,000 and jailed up to six months.
Subsequent offences may carry a fine of up to S$20,000, up to 12 months’ jail, or both.
Mr Gan stressed however that the Health Minister may only produce such control orders only when he is satisfied that the spread of COVID-19 constitutes a serious threat to public health and that the control order was necessary to prevent or contain it.
“The key message is simply this: ‘Stay home. Go out only for essential activities. Avoid close contact with people.
“If you can’t, wear a mask to protect others and to protect yourself.’ Everyone must play our part for the circuit breaker to be effective,” stressed Mr Gan.
A control order and any amendments made to the order must be presented to Parliament as soon as possible after its publication in the Gazette.
The House may pass a resolution annulling the said control order or any part or amendment of it.
The minister must then publish the control order to inform those who may be affected, on top of publishing the said order in the Gazette.
S’poreans must “take responsibility” for private get-togethers by reducing their size and frequency as “not everything can be done through government measures”: National Development Minister Lawrence Wong in Mar
When asked if the stricter measures constitute a lockdown, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong — who also co-chairs the multi-ministry taskforce on COVID-19 — said last Fri that with the current measures, the Government is “not shutting down the economy”.
“Essential businesses will continue. We are not stopping people from going out if they really need to,” Mr Wong added.
Mr Wong last month announced the suspension of all events and gatherings with 250 or more attendees at a single time, as an extension of an earlier one, which called for ticketed cultural, sports and entertainment events to be limited to fewer than 250 participants.
Mr Wong said that while the new measure “will lead to some inconvenience”, such a stringent measure could “give us better control over the situation and enable us to suppress and slow down the spread of the virus”.
“They should lead to a change in outcomes from where we are today. We cannot continue with business-as-usual activities,” he stressed.
The limitation on participant size applies does not only to public entertainment venues, but also to private gatherings such as weddings and parties, according to the multi-ministry taskforce.
“We knew this was going to be disruptive, so we started with an advisory so people could get used to it. But this is no longer an advisory,” Mr Wong said.
“Now, we are going to work through all the event venue operators, whether it’s a hotel or town council renting out a multi-purpose hall, to make sure that all of these conditions are fulfilled,” he added.
Mr Wong, however, also said that such measures may be more difficult to “impose or enforce for private gatherings”.
“If somebody has a party in their home, I wouldn’t even know. And that’s why we say not everything can be done through government measures.
“Singaporeans have to take responsibility for your private get-togethers. Do it in smaller groups. Don’t do them so frequently,” he said.
Kenneth Mak, director of medical services at the Health Ministry, said last Fri that there are no plans at this stage to move Singapore’s level in the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) from Orange to Red.
DORSCON is a color-coded framework that shows the current disease situation. It is used as a guideline for the Government in dealing with outbreaks. There are four codes — namely Green, Yellow, Orange, and Red — which indicate the severity and spread of the disease.