Phase 3 in Singapore May Last for a Year or More, Until a Vaccine is Available
When Phase 3 of Singapore’s safe reopening finally arrives—possibly by the end of the year—it could last for a year or more, as health minister Gan Kim Yong told the parliament on November 4. Responding to Tampines GRC member of parliament (MP) Ms Cheng Li Hui’s questions about Phase 3, Mr Gan reiterated that Phase 3 would not be a return to “the pre-Covid status quo”.
He added that the Government’s objective in Phase 3 would be “to reach a steady state of permitted economic and social activities until an effective vaccine or treatment is widely available”.
Ms Cheng had asked about Mr Gan what factors are taken into account when deciding on the maximum number of people allowed for social gatherings and events; what safeguards and measures will be put in place when more activities resume on a larger scale; and what plans are in place should there be a spike of Covid-19 cases in Phase 3.
How gathering sizes are determined
Noting that analysis showed the probability of Covid-19 transmission tended to be high in social settings, Mr Gan shared that factors that determine the cap on group sizes included the frequency of the activities, potential risk of specific types of events, as well as whether the risks could be mitigated with effective safety measures in place.
“In Singapore, we saw large clusters forming due to the Safra Jurong dinner and the Mei Hwan Drive condominium family get-together which took place over Chinese New Year. We tend to lower our guard when we are among family and friends,” he said.
While gatherings of any size pose risks of Covid-19 transmission, the risks are even higher when having meals together as masks are removed when eating and drinking. However, Mr Gan also noted that it is “not tenable nor desirable” to ban social gatherings for the long term.
“Hence, we have taken a cautious approach in expanding group sizes,” the minister said, explaining the increase of group sizes for social gatherings from five to eight in the projected road map to Phase 3.
“Taking banquet tables as an example, many used to sit around 10 people before Covid-19. So eight persons is about the maximum that these tables can take while allowing some additional distancing compared to the past,” said Mr Gan.
Resumption of larger events
As for safeguards for events on a larger scale, Mr Gan noted that additional measures have already been put in place for weddings, for example, where guests are not allowed to mingle beyond groups of five at their tables, and must adhere to using SafeEntry and TraceTogether.
“This allows more family and friends to participate while still minimising the total number of interactions.”
On top of that, testing and contact tracing are the two keys to allow more activities to resume.
According to the minister, pre-event testing is being piloted to allow higher-risk activities—such as weddings—to be able to scale up safely.
The first pre-event Covid-19 tests took place at the opening of the Singapore In-ternational Energy Week (SIEW) 2020 on October 26, where guest were swabbed and tested with antigen rapid test (ART) kits. Results were then sent to them via text message, which they would have to present at a check-in counter before entering the event hall.
However, as these test kits are not as accurate as polymerase chain reaction tests, safe management measures will still have to be observed to avoid any Covid-19 cases that went under the radar.
As for contact tracing, TraceTogether-only SafeEntry is being progressively rolled out to public venues such as cinemas, schools, workplaces and restaurants. The use of the TraceTogether app or token would be compulsory to enter any of these venues by end December, allowing authorities to speed up contact tracing efforts.
Restrictions may be reimposed in case of spikes
“We must remain vigilant. Should there be a spike in cases, we need to respond swiftly and decisively. We cannot rule out the need to reimpose measures or introduce new measures in order to keep the virus under control,” Mr Gan said.
“To continue on our steady path to Phase 3, each of us must play our part to adhere to safe management measures, maintain good personal hygiene, and actively participate in the TraceTogether programme. Together, we will arrive at phase three, and emerge stronger ultimately.”