Singapore returns to work-from-home as Covid cases surge
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Singapore returns to work-from-home as Covid cases surge

A man wearing a face mask passes a sign put up to encourage social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak, at Marina Bay in Singapore, on Wednesday. (Reuters photo)
A man wearing a face mask passes a sign put up to encourage social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak, at Marina Bay in Singapore, on Wednesday. (Reuters photo)

Singapore made work-from-home the default and tightened rules to allow a maximum of two people to meet in restaurants or other social settings, as it seeks to rein in mostly mild cases that could otherwise quadruple in two weeks and overburden hospitals.

Primary school students will have to shift to learning from home, while booster shots get extended beyond seniors to a younger age group, the government said on Friday. The moves, which take effect from Monday for about a month, appear to shift away from the country’s stated transition towards living with the virus. 


With health officials expecting daily cases to jump to around 6,000 from about 1,500 currently, the government wants to curb that increase and avoid a hard lockdown. This resolve may soon get severely tested even though four in five people are already vaccinated in Singapore. 


“This was a very difficult decision for us as we know that this would affect many businesses and people,” said Trade Minister Gan Kim Yong, one of co-chairs of virus taskforce. “While doing so may not reduce the number of daily new infections immediately, it will allow us to slow down the speed of increase and avoid overtaxing our healthcare workers.”


Singapore, until now, has allowed up to five fully vaccinated patrons to dine together at restaurants and up to two at food centers and coffee shops regardless of vaccination status. Workplace restrictions were initially getting loosened with up to half of employees allowed to return to offices. 


Even though the total number of patients in intensive care remains low at 23, the jump in mild infections has begun to stir anxiety in Singapore. Residents are airing grievances over not being able to reach the health ministry quickly to discuss their concerns and fretted over the long lag between testing positive for Covid and getting sent to a recovery facility.  


Here are some key details and new measures from the briefing:


New measures will run from Sept 27 until Oct 24.

  • The government expects the number of people treated in hospitals to drop to about 10% with the new rules.
  • Singapore taskforce says country not going back to “heightened alert” or a lockdown.
  • Government has resisted a suggestion to put tracking devices on people observing quarantine at home.
  • Virus cases are doubling every eight days, with the expectation for very, very, large numbers.
  • If the infection continues at its current trajectory, Singapore can expect to reach a daily count of about 3,200 in the next week. Beyond that, there is a range of possibilities but the government cannot rule out cases doubling further.
  • Bed occupancy rates at hospitals are still very good.
  • Singapore is preparing the health system to handle 5,000 daily cases from 2,500 currently.
  • Health officials will invite people from 50-59 years for a booster shot from Oct 4, expanding the coverage beyond senior citizens.
  • Primary school children will shift to learning from home from Sept 27 through to Oct 7.
  • Singapore still proceeding with plan to allow foreign workers in dorms to come out and be in the community.

The government will continue with plans for travel. Vaccinated travelling pilots with Germany and Brunei have shown that it is possible to travel safely, the officials said.

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