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The key things to know about the process towards Phase 3, and what to expect

It has been several months since Singapore entered Phase 2 of its safe re-opening, and as the number of Covid-19 cases decrease and safe distancing measures ease a little, Singaporeans have been left wondering what exactly Phase 3 entails—which is said to be our “new normal” until a vaccine is found.

During the announcement of Phase 2 in June, health minister Gan Kim Yong had described it as a “process”, with restrictions continuing to ease until we reach Phase 3, which is “the eventual endpoint”.

Restrictions have indeed been progressively lifted in the past few months. More employees have been allowed to return to workplaces as long as they continue to work from home (WFH) for “at least half of their working time”, and that “no more than half of such employees are at the workplace at any point in time”. Business-oriented events within workplaces have also been allowed for up to 50 persons depending on venue capacity.

From October 3, religious organisations have been allowed to “conduct congregational and other worship services for up to 100 persons”, and weddings, which was previously capped at 50 people, will now be able to accommodate up to 100 attendees (including the wedding couple and excluding vendors) as long as they are split into zones of up to 50 persons each or by staggered timings.

Now, it appears that the Government is preparing Singapore to enter Phase 3. Speaking in Parliament on Monday, deputy prime minister Heng Swee Keat said that more details on the third stage of it phased re-opening would be released by the multi-ministry task force in the coming weeks. This would include the expected timeline as well as changes to the current safety regulations.

"In our fight against Covid-19, we are currently in a stable position, but we must remain vigilant. Amid the uncertainties, we are adapting to living with the virus," said Mr Heng.

He added that to further reopen safely in the coming months, Singapore is adopting a four-pronged strategy to put itself in the best position to fight Covid-19: securing early access to effective vaccines, enhancing testing capabilities, conducting swift contact tracing and isolation of infected individuals, and adhering to safe management measures.

Here’s what to expect on the road to Phase 3:

Larger social gatherings

“If all of us continue to work together and keep our guard up even as more activities resume, we will be able to keep the pandemic under control and progress towards further opening up our economy and society steadily,” Mr Gan said, in response to queries about the easing of measures.

“For instance, we could consider allowing for general group sizes larger than five, so that larger families or groups of friends could meet and have meals together.”

"We are particularly concerned about dining, as we need to remove our masks so as to eat and drink, but we tend to also talk at the same time. The risk is considerably higher than activities which we can keep our masks on and maintain a safe distance.”

Live performances and events resume

Even as arts companies have been allowed to resume work and rehearsals since June 22, live performances have been prohibited since March 26 as a safety precaution. However, plans are in place to resume these activities. As of September 11, small-scale live performances have been piloted at selected venues managed by the National Arts Council (NAC), with audiences capped at 50.

“After October, MCCY (Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth) and NAC will monitor and review the outcomes of the pilots together with the participating cultural institutions and arts practitioners and we hope to put up recommendations to the gradual resumption of arts performances,” a spokesman for NAC had said.

Mr Gan also said in his address, “We have begun pilots of events and activities with a larger number of attendees such as trade exhibitions, conferences and religious worship to assess whether we can maintain effective precautions and safe distancing measures. If these pilots are successful, we will be able to use the lessons learned to allow more large scale events to proceed.”

More green lanes and air travel bubbles

Delivering a ministerial statement in parliament today, transport minister Ong Ye Kung spoke about the government’s strategies to “revive” Changi Air Hub and the aviation sector.

“The longer our borders remain closed, the greater the risk of losing our air hub status and our attractiveness as a place to invest and to create jobs because of those investments,” he said.

Plans to revive the sector include pursing more reciprocal green lane arrangements with partner countries or regions, restricted to essential business and official travellers, who will have “controlled itineraries” to minimise spread, as well as air travel bubbles with countries and regions that have “comprehensive public health surveillance systems” for general travellers.

“We already know who they are. And at the same time, we should also lift our travel advisory for Singapore residents travelling to these countries and regions.”

Currently, Singapore has cross-border arrangements with selected countries via different schemes—fast lanes with China and the Republic of Korea; reciprocal green lanes with Brunei, Japan and Malaysia; and Air Travel Passes for Australia (excluding Victoria State), Brunei, New Zealand and Vietnam.

Changi Airport already has a facility to swab up to 10,000 passengers a day, with plans to set up a dedicated Covid-19 testing laboratory at the airport.

Mr Ong did point out the need to “manage expectations”.

“For members who are hoping that I’m about to announce some air travel resumption and even possible December holiday destinations, I am sorry I will disappoint you," he said.

Phase 3 will remain until vaccines are available

When we finally enter Phase 3, Singapore will remain in that stage until a vaccine becomes available and proves to be effective. In Mr Heng’s address, the deputy prime minister noted that Singapore is “working very actively to secure early access to safe and effective vaccines, if and when they become available”.

“Singapore is an early supporter of the Covid-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility (COVAX) which accelerates the development and production of, and equitable access to potential Covid-19 vaccines,” Mr Heng said.

Singapore co-chairs the Friends of the Covax Facility with Switzerland to promote vaccine multilateralism.

“Singapore is also pursuing the procurement of Covid-19 vaccines with a number of pharmaceutical companies, supporting local efforts to develop one, and building up local vaccine manufacturing capacity,” he added.

Singapore will remain in Dorscon Orange

Even as we enter Phase 3, Singapore will likely remain in Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) Orange, according to Mr Gan.

“At this moment, particularly we have to be very mindful that while the number of cases in Singapore is low, the cases around us, other parts of the world, is still rising... therefore, we cannot let our guard down.”

“So I would continue to maintain Dorscon Orange for the time being, until we are quite confident that the global situation is under control,” he said.

Singapore has been in Dorscon Orange since early February, when Covid-19 cases began to spike. The category is used to classify disease outbreaks that are deemed severe and spread easily between people, but have not spread widely and can be contained.