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Singapore to relax Covid rules in stages as virus cases fall


Singapore will increase group gathering sizes and allow dining-in at food outlets to resume after aggressive virus restrictions over the past month stemmed an outbreak in infections.

From June 14, group sizes will be raised to five from two persons, while operating capacities of attractions, events and cruises will be increased to 50% from 25%, the health ministry said in a statement on Thursday. From June 21, dining-in at restaurants can resume, as well as live performances, in-person tuition and gym classes. For companies however, work-from-home remains the default arrangement, according to the statement.

"Further relaxations such as for group and event sizes, capacity limits, distancing requirements, mask-wearing and travel will be introduced when a sufficient proportion of the population has been fully vaccinated, especially for those who are vaccinated," it said in the statement.

The country's daily virus count has dropped to the single-digit range since lockdown-like restrictions such as smaller group sizes and the ban on dining-in were imposed in mid-May, after an outbreak from Changi Airport resulted in the country's largest active cluster. Singapore's hard-won success in bringing the latest outbreak under control comes as the city-state ramps up vaccination.

As of June 9, about 44% of the population have received their first dose, and about a third have been fully vaccinated, according to the statement. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last month pledged to reopen the economy as testing and inoculation become widespread, signaling a shift away from the strict containment approach that could be detrimental to the trade-reliant country.

The Ministry of Health on Thursday confirmed four new cases of locally transmitted Covid-19 infection, two of which are unlinked. Officials at a briefing said they expect half of Singapore's population to be fully vaccinated in August. Citizens aged 12 to 39 years old will be invited to register for vaccination from June 11, with this extended to the rest of the population over the coming months.

As more activities resume, the government will also require all staff who work at settings with unmasked clients to be regularly tested, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated. These include staff of dine-in food outlets and fitness studios.

Authorities have also granted interim approval for self-test kits, that produce results in less than 20 minutes, to be sold at retail pharmacies from June 16 onwards. Sales will be initially limited to 10 kits per person.

"This wave of infection is not like a big forest fire where the entire thing is burning. We see spots of fire," health minister Ong Ye Kung said at the briefing. "We didn't resort to flying overhead and dropping big water bombs, but the trucks went in with our water tanks and hose, and we managed to put it out."

As Singapore looks to once again restart activities, Lee was scheduled to meet his Australian counterpart, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Thursday. Morrison will be the first foreign leader to make an official visit to the city-state since Covid-19 broke out, and this takes place against a backdrop of interest within both countries to establish air travel bubbles with each another.

Published : June 11, 2021

By : Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Philip J. Heijmans, Kwan Wei Kevin Tan