S'pore to lift most social & workplace restrictions when Covid-19 is endemic, although mask-wearing 'may remain': Gan Kim Yong

Covid-19 may be treated like the flu in the near future.

Jason Fan | July 26, 2021, 05:04 PM

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Singapore will be able to lift "practically all social and workplace restrictions" when Singapore reaches an endemic state with regards to Covid-19, according to Minister for Trade and Industry Gan Kim Yong.

However, Gan, who is also the co-chair of the Multi-Ministry Taskforce, added that not all Covid-19 measures may be lifted, as some critical measures such as mask-wearing and precautions for large events "may remain" even when the Covid-19 situation improves.

Businesses must look towards the future

During his Ministerial Statement on Monday (July 26), Gan said that the government recognises that it has been a difficult time for businesses, especially for sectors that have been more affected by the tightening of Safe Management Measures (SMMs), such as F&B establishments and gyms.

While the government has provided various support schemes, such as the Jobs Support Scheme and the Jobs Growth Initiative, Gan said that many business owners feel that the measures, although useful, can only serve as temporary pain relief.

According to Gan, he was "heartened" that many businesses have adapted their operations in response to the challenges, by moving their businesses online, as they are seeking new opportunities while preparing for recovery.

He praised such businesses who have shown resilience in the face of Covid-19, and said that this was "the right attitude to have".

Gan emphasised that businesses must be ready to adapt and transform quickly, in order to emerge stronger after the end of the Covid-19 crisis.

"To ensure that we do not get left behind once the dust settles, we must turn this once-in-a-generation crisis into a once-in-a-generation opportunity, to transform our businesses, develop new areas of growth, and strengthen our connections to the global economy," said Gan.

Employers should stock up on self-testing kits

In addition, Gan also said that businesses can take certain steps to prepare for Singapore's re-opening.

For example, business owners should encourage and facilitate all medically-eligible employees, especially those involved in high-touch point activities, to get vaccinated, with those who cannot be vaccinated should be deployed to lower-risk settings.

Businesses who provide high-touch point services or tap on a pool of frequently-changing workers should also integrate the use of Covid-19 self-testing kits into their work processes.

"I know of several employers who have made bulk purchases of testing kits, so their staff can easily access them if needed. This is a good idea, and I encourage other employers to do so," said Gan.

Employees should be encouraged to self-isolate and get themselves tested if they are not feeling well, or if they suspect that they may have been exposed to Covid-19.

Gan also encouraged employers to continue allowing flexible work arrangements, and to put in place business continuity plans, in order to strengthen operational resilience.

Fully-vaccinated persons will be the first to travel

Singapore will also begin looking at relaxing border restrictions safely.

Gan explained that as a small and open economy, Singapore does not have the luxury of closing off to the world, and that many parts of the local economy requires a steady flow of people in and out of the country.

He also said that Singaporeans must not forget the plight of the significant international community based in Singapore, many of whom have not been able to return home to visit their families since the start of the pandemic.

"It has not been easy for many of them," said Gan.

Hence, as Singapore's vaccination coverage increases, the nation will progressively facilitate international travel with countries that have managed Covid-19 well, in order to allow fully-vaccinated persons to travel and do business more freely.

According to Gan, the government is currently engaging partner countries, and will provide an update when ready.

Covid-19 should be less disruptive in the future

According to Gan, if the incidence of severe illness from Covid-19 remains low despite clusters emerging "from time to time," Singapore would be able to arrive at a truly endemic state.

This would mean the lifting of "practically all social and workplace restrictions", although he emphasised that critical measures such as mask-wearing and precautions for large events may remain.

Such a state would mean that domestic infected cases will create much less disruption than they do today, which would allow local businesses to largely return to their normal operations.

For example, businesses may not have to shut down their premises for deep cleaning, whenever a Covid-19 case has visited the location.

Instead, infected individuals with mild symptoms may simply recover from home, with close contacts monitoring their health and not needing to quarantine or undergo self-isolation.

"This is similar to how we treat influenza cases today," said Gan.

Top image via MCI/YouTube.