Govt to ban social gatherings & interactions at workplaces from Sep. 8, 2021

MOH said clusters in workplace settings have taken place because of "lax Safe Management Measures", especially in areas like "staff canteens and pantries".

Kayla Wong | Ashley Tan | September 06, 2021, 06:13 PM

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Social gatherings and interactions at workplaces will be banned starting from Sep. 8, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Monday, Sep. 6.

Previously, in updated Covid-19 measures introduced on July 7, it was announced that social gatherings at work were allowed in groups of five.

This was still the case as of Aug. 23, according to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM).

The last time workplace social gatherings were banned by the government was in May last year, when MOM said employers had to ensure that there was no socialising among employees at both the workplace and outside the workplace.

Clusters at workplaces due to lax measures

In a press release issued on Sep. 6, MOH said they have observed that recent clusters in workplace settings have taken place because of "lax Safe Management Measures", especially in areas like "staff canteens and pantries where people tend to let their guard down and interact amongst themselves without their masks on".

MOH said that they will take tougher action if there are positive cases amongst workers who are infected.

In particular, employers will be required to put in place a maximum Work-From-Home (WFH) requirement over a 14 day period, should one or more of their workers be found to have contracted Covid-19 and have returned to their workplace.

This means that everyone in the company who can WFH will be required to do so.

Those who are working from home are advised to minimise social gatherings and leave their homes only for essential activities during this 14-day period, MOH added.

Reduce non-essential social activities for next two weeks

The ministry also strongly encourages all individuals, especially the vulnerable elderly or persons staying with elderly, to reduce their non-essential social activities for the next two weeks.

MOH said everyone should continue to limit their social circle to "a small group of regular contacts", and limit themselves to "one social gathering a day, whether to another household or in a public place".

In addition, they advise all individuals, including both vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals, to self-test regularly with ARTs -- sold at most supermarkets and convenience stores -- especially if they participate in higher-risk activities or attend large-scale events.

At a media doorstop on Sep. 6, when asked about the restrictions on the number of social gatherings per day, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said a cut back of five to two persons for social gatherings, or even two to zero, would essentially mean “going back to a Heightened Alert”, with a generally “more tightened posture”.

This is what the government is trying to refrain from doing so, he said.

Wong added that they are “calling on everyone to do their part exercise social responsibility”, which includes scaling back on non-essential social interactions.

He said, “You can go out to dine but scale back during this period because every effort counts, and if all of us do our part by getting tested regularly by scaling back interactions, we will be able to slow down the transmission.”

Additional measures to reduce spread of Covid-19

As part of MOH's efforts to continue strengthening public health actions to reduce the spread of infection, the ministry said that once a cluster of cases is identified, in addition to the quarantine of close contacts, they will send out Health Risk Warnings (HRW) and Health Risk Alerts (HRA) to individuals to "cast a wide net around the cases, and to contain the clusters quickly".

In addition, MOH pointed out that with more cases circulating in the community, more HRWs or HRAs will be issued.

While HRW and HRA are not quarantine orders, individuals who receive a HRW will be required by law to get a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and self-isolate until they receive a negative result from their first test.

They will also be required to do ART tests thereafter, and a PCR test on the 14th day.

Individuals who receive a HRA are not subject to actions required by the law but are strongly encouraged to go for a PCR test as soon as possible.

For both HRW and HRA, individuals should reduce their social interactions for 14 days.

Top image via Getty Images

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