No 'significant' easing of COVID curbs in December: Ong Ye Kung

·3 min read
People wearing face masks long Orchard Road.
People wearing face masks long Orchard Road. (PHOTO: Maverick Asio/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — Singapore's COVID-19 restrictions will not be significantly loosened amid the year-end festivities in December, following the upcoming increase in social gathering and dining sizes from Monday (22 November).

Given the "pent-up demand" to go out and socialise during the year-end festive period, any further relaxing of restrictions could spark off a new wave of infections, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung during a virtual media briefing by the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce (MTF) on Saturday.

"Once we cross into December, there is a certain mood as we move closer to the year-end festivities and there will be pent-up demand to want to go out," said the MTF co-chair.

"We don't want to do an opening move that is significant in the month of December, because social activities will spike, and it can spark off a new wave (of infections)."

Explaining the current move to increase social gathering and dining sizes from two to five, Ong said that it is a "valuable window of opportunity" to allow the public to ease into the festive mood.

He cautioned that such a move will mean more social interactions, which will increase the circulation of the coronavirus. This may result in more daily infection cases and more hospitalisations. 

However, the impact of this move on healthcare systems will be counteracted by three factors: vaccine booster-shot administration which is gathering pace; safe recovery measures; and Vaccinated Differentiated Safe Management Measures (VDS).

"If we miss this window and delay opening until next year, protection from boosters against infection and symptomatic diseases may weaken by then, and the case numbers and public health outcomes will likely be worse than if we open up now," Ong said.

Finance Minister and MTF co-chair Lawrence Wong added that the "next series of moves" can likely be considered around end-December, if the overall situation and health care system remain stable.

The plight of migrant workers

In response to a query from Yahoo News Singapore on when Singapore's 300,000 migrant workers can expect fuller freedom of movement, Wong insisted that the city-state has to take an "incremental" approach in easing restrictions on these workers. "After one move, we'll monitor the situation, we'll monitor the effect, and then we'll make another move." 

It was announced last Monday that from 3 December, some 3,000 migrant workers will be allowed to go out of their dorms each day, for up to eight hours each time. However, this represents just 1 per cent of all workers, of whom 98 per cent have been fully vaccinated. 

Wong added, "We are very aware that our migrant workers need that time and space to go out, and that's why, besides allowing them go out to the community, we also have eased up considerably their time in recreational centres... We'll monitor the effects of (this move) over one or two weeks, and if the situation remains stable, we will continue with this incremental approach."

Since April 2020, some 300,000 migrant workers in Singapore have been living under restricted conditions at purpose-built dormitories and factory-converted dormitories, in a bid to control the spread of the coronavirus. Most are still not permitted to leave except to go to work, even though cases from the community have far outstripped those in the dorms in recent months.

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