During a virtual news conference yesterday (8 Jun), Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong responded to questions on perceived inconsistency safe distancing rules imposed by the government.
A question was asked why close contact with commuters on public transport is deemed acceptable during phase one, yet more meetings between family members are not allowed.
Wong said he understood why such comparisons are being made, but that the settings and risks in the two situations are different.
In phase one of Singapore’s reopening, people are allowed to visit their parents or grandparents, who can receive only up to two visitors from the same household once a day. Other non-essential activities and social gatherings continue to be prohibited.
Wong said when more people use public transport as they go back to workplaces and schools, it will be difficult, and potentially impossible, to maintain safe distances. That is why other precautions have to be taken, such as the wearing of masks, requiring people not to talk on buses and trains, and stepping up cleaning regimes.
“In any case, the public transport journeys are not long. These are transient risks, but with these additional precautions, we are able to minimise the risk further,” he tried to explain.
“But social interactions are of a different magnitude of risk altogether. When we gather together, whether to talk, to interact, to have a meal together, the risks are much higher.”
He noted that the vast majority of infected cases are typically spread by a few events that involve social interactions and gatherings. This explains the stricter limits on such social gatherings in phase one, he said.
Removal of safe distancing stickers from buses and trains
Originally, the government was planning to implement safe distancing rules on buses and trains too. But last Mon (1 Jun), Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan suddenly posted a Facebook message saying that there “will be times when safe distancing will not be possible” on public transport.
In the post, Khaw shared pictures of himself and a public transport worker removing safe distancing notices from seats on an MRT train and a bus. “From today onwards, the green and orange stickers will be removed as physical distancing will be difficult once the crowds return,” he said in the picture’s caption.
“We still urge Singaporeans to work from home and for those who need to leave home, to stagger their time and avoid traditional peak hours,” said Khaw, who stressed the importance of commuters wearing masks “all the time”.
Khaw also advised commuters to refrain from conversations and observe personal hygiene.
Indeed, many Singaporeans were wondering about the inconsistency of the safe distancing rules imposed by the government. But now at least they have an answer from Minister Wong assuring that public transport journeys are not long and that COVID-19 risks are merely “transient”.