Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Monday that Singapore is set to enter Phase 3 of its post-COVID circuit breaker reopening on 28 December.
In the televised address, PM Lee said that part of the changes will include easing of restrictions for gatherings from five persons to eight persons at a time which will “make it easier to hold family get-together during the festive period”.
Capacity limits for malls and places of worship will also be relaxed, he said.
Stressing that trade and travel are the country’s “lifeblood”, PM Lee said that there is a greater risk of Singapore “permanently losing out as an international hub“ the longer borders remain closed to travellers, which would consequently hurt the livelihoods of Singapore’s citizens and residents.
As such, the “only option” for Singapore is to reopen borders “in a controlled and safe way”.
The Prime Minister added that Singapore “will see more imported cases, and there will be some risk of these cases spreading to the community”, adding that it is “a calculated risk we have to accept”.
Curiously, experts were saying just last week that Singapore is unlikely to move into Phase 3 of the post-COVID circuit breaker reopening, given that the national contact tracing programme, TraceTogether, has yet to achieve its targeted uptake rate of 70 per cent.
In October, Education Minister Lawrence Wong who — co-chairs the COVID-19 taskforce — said that one of the conditions that must be met for the country to enter Phase 3 is having 70 per cent of the population adopt either the TraceTogether app or token.
“When we have both a higher take-up rate of TT [TraceTogether] and wider deployment of TT-only SafeEntry, and community transmission throughout this period remains low, then there is a good chance of us entering phase three by the end of the year,” he said in a press conference.
However, The Smart Nation and Digital Government Office stated that only about 2.9 million people — just a little over 50 per cent of the population — have downloaded the app or collected the token so far.
Alex Cook, vice-dean of research at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, told The Straits Times on 7 December: “One of the targets set has been for sufficient numbers of people to have TraceTogether as more effective contact tracing will counter the relaxation in rules. I think we’re not yet at that target, and that may hold us back from advancing a phase.”
Concurring with Assoc Prof Cook’s statement, Teo Yik Ying — dean of the school — said that adoption of the app or token is still lagging.
“At present, it appears we will not be moving to Phase Three by the end of the year as it appears that token distribution has not achieved a complete coverage of the entire population,” Prof Teo remarked.
So it does appear that the country is entering Phase 3 despite not meeting the population uptake target of the TraceTogether programme. The question is: Why?