Social restrictions to remain for Phase 1

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Measures are necessary to avoid any risk of the virus flaring up again: Lawrence Wong

Though the circuit breaker will end after June 1, restrictions on activities such as dining in and meeting friends and most kin will remain as Singapore enters the first phase of reopening its economy.

This will disappoint people but the measures are necessary to avoid any risk of the virus flaring up again, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong at a virtual press conference yesterday.

"The feeling of being cooped up at home for a long period of time is starting to have its effect on people... But I hope we can all maintain our discipline for a while longer," added Mr Wong, co-chair of the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic.

He warned that "if we were to open up too quickly and allow all these social activities to restart, there is a risk the virus will flare up, and we might see many more cases and clusters forming".

Fellow co-chair Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said it could take at least four weeks to exit the first phase and enter the second one, which is a transition stage that will see the resumption of some social activities.

The reason for adopting this timeframe is that Singapore will, by and large, need to observe the situation for two incubation periods - or 28 days - after it rolls back the existing circuit breaker measures, he said.

But it is not set in stone. Adjustments will be made along the way as the situation evolves.

In deciding on the right time to move into the second phase, the Government will not just rely on the number of new cases, he added. Rather, a "whole basket of factors" will be considered in assessing risk, including the nature of transmission of new cases.

The task force will also consult professionals to help judge whether Singapore is ready for the second phase, he added.

Should the number of cases soar and big clusters emerge, some of the circuit breaker measures will be reintroduced in a targeted way in the first phase. The minister also said Singapore is prepared to see a rise in the number of cases initially as people interact more.

But if, among other things, the cases remain low over a sustained period of time, then Singapore can consider going into the second phase, he added.

Mr Gan warned that the second phase could also last for several months - three months, six months or longer, depending on the situation.

Mr Wong said there will be two stages in the second phase.

The first stage will kick off with lower-risk activities. These may include some limited social activities, including letting people gather in small groups and dining in at restaurants.

In the second stage, higher-risk activities, such as events, entertainment and attractions with bigger crowds and close contact among people, will be assessed for reopening, he added.

In the third phase, when Singapore will be in a state of stability, new controls and safeguards have to be put in place until a vaccine is found, said Mr Wong.

While activities such as going to a theatre, cinema or place of worship will likely be possible during this phase, limits on group size and safe distancing measures will remain, he said.