Ong Ye Kung promises fewer 'micro' safe management rules, but S'poreans must exercise personal responsibility

He called for a shift in mindset among Singaporeans.

Joshua Lee | February 16, 2022, 08:16 PM

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The Singapore government announced the streamlining of safe management measures (SMMs) today (Feb.16).

For instance, safe distancing will no longer be compulsory in mask-on settings and the number of household visitors will be increased from five per day to five at any one time.

Not easing, but simplifying

It's a big step forward in Singapore's plan to transit into living with endemic Covid-19.

Many will see today's announcement as a step towards an easing of Covid-19 restrictions but the MTF said that it is not.

"This is not the time for easing, said Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the MTF.

"It's not the time for easing because we are still seeing...(a) rise in our infection and in fact we are seeing very high infection numbers now."

It is, however, an "important juncture to review in-depth our current rules" said Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung. Over time, the Covid-19 restrictions have become "quite unwieldy", said Ong.

"By streamlining them, we can adopt a posture that will better enable us to open up when the timing is right."

In the same vein that the government streamlined healthcare processes into three protocols in October 2021, the government has simplified SMM rules based on five parameters:

  1. Group sizes
  2. Mask-wearing
  3. Workplace requirements
  4. Safe distancing
  5. Capacity limits

Simplifying rules allows Singapore to be more nimble

Why simplify? Ong gave two reasons.

First, as mentioned above, it allows Singapore to respond quickly.

"It will bring us to a position where we are more nimble and ready, that we can ease those SMMs more readily when the Omicron wave subsides. And we can tighten should the situation worsen such as the emergence of another variant of concern."

Second, the health minister hopes that these changes will help people to understand "not just the letter, but also the spirit of the rules" and hence, exercise more individual responsibility (more on this later).

Less micro-managing, more personal responsibility

It's taking a more macro approach to managing the pandemic; Ong promised that the government will try to work within these five parameters instead of coming up with "micro rules" that will balloon into a "confusing web of regulations".

There are also other ways in which the government will no longer micro-manage this pandemic.

Ong listed several examples:

  1. No need to cross out alternate seats in public if it’s a mask-on setting
  2. No need to stand a metre apart for a photo if everyone is wearing a mask
  3. Keeping magazines and newspapers in public areas as long as good hygiene is maintained

These are little things that "really don't matter anymore," said Ong, as they don't make a material difference to the pandemic.

There was also a sort of "social compact" that Ong hinted at: The government is willing to to let go of these micro restrictions but in return, Singaporeans have to exercise individual responsibility.

He called for a mindset shift: From being told what can be be done (or not done) to being able to proceed with anything "so long as we abide the five parameters that can effectively manage the risks".

"It means barbecue pits can be open so long as people gather together, socialise, according to the group size prescribed.

You don't have to divide guests in zones for weddings so long as they keep to their group sizes and do not mingle across tables.

There is no need for school assemblies to be restricted to 30 minutes, which is the rule today. And we can also play sports again."

Ong ended with a call to Singaporeans to internalise the five SMM parameters and understand their purpose.

Top image by Joshua Lee 

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