SINGAPORE (May 2): Singapore will begin to gradually ease its tighter circuit breaker measures from May 5 as the number of new Covid-19 cases in the community falls, the Covid-19 multi-ministry task force announced on Saturday.

The tighter measures had been imposed tentatively for two weeks starting April 21, and served to reduce the workforce commuting to work daily from 20% to 15%.

Breaking down the community transmission numbers, Health Minister and chairman of the task force Gan Kim Yong noted the daily average has dipped “by more than half from 25 the week before to 12 in the past week”. He added that a decrease was also seen in the number of unlinked community cases from a daily average of 16, to 6 in the past week.

As at 12pm on Saturday, Singapore reported 447 new cases, taking the total count of Covid-19 infections here to 17,548. Of the new cases a majority are among migrant workers living in dormitories, while four are Singaporeans and permanent residents.

“So far, our community numbers have been coming down – we have been making good progress,” mused National Development Minister Lawrence Wong who is also co-chair of the task force.

As the government prepares to ease the tighter measures, he cautioned that the process will be done gradually, starting with some adjustments.

“We are not yet at single digits when it comes to local transmission. So, it is not time to lift the tighter measures in place, we still need to continue with them for at least a week, but we will start making some adjustments”.

In this vein, selected businesses will be allowed to resume operations on May 5. This includes some traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) operations such as needle acupuncture for pain management and the sale of retail products in associated medical halls. The cluster is deemed ‘essential’ as Singaporeans subscribe to these treatments for chronic health conditions and ailments, the task force noted.

Other activities such as walking and exercising in private residential estates like condominiums will be also allowed to resume. However, common facilities such as swimming pools and gyms will remain closed, the task force added.

Starting May 12 there will be a gradual re-opening of some work premises, such as barbers, home-based businesses, laundry services, selected food retail outlets and food manufacturing joints. These services had originally been categorised as essential at the start of the circuit breaker.

All services permitted to resume operations were considered based on the number of workers needed at workplace and whether the activities conducted will result in the large crowds and social gatherings, the task force noted.

However, they stressed that firms permitted to operate must first impose stricter requirements such as safe distancing measures and safe management practices, before they can have employees returning to work.

"The bottom line is, this is not the time to slacken and let our guard down. We may be easing some measures but we must stay very disciplined and vigilant," Wong emphasised.

"We have to do this cautiously and gradually. And as we do this, we need everyone to cooperate, so that we can open up the economy and resume normal activities safely without causing further clusters to form."

Later in the month from May 19, schools will be allowed to bring back students, particularly those from graduating cohorts taking national examinations who need additional support and remediation. These students will be allowed to attend face-to-face lessons in small groups.

Following this – if the situation is under control as at June 1 – the task force said the circuit breaker measures can be rolled back gradually. But even then, they note it will be a new normal.

Said Wong "we will not open up suddenly, and then everything resumes. That will not be possible". As such, it is premature to say what can be re-opened from June onwards, as it will depend on how the situation evolves, he added.

For now, despite the gradual resumption of certain activities, the task force maintained that Singapore is “not out of the woods” as community transmission remains a possibility.

“We haven’t reached zero cases yet and there is still no vaccines yet,” said Gan as he appealed to Singaporeans to remain vigilant and continue the circuit breaker measures of safe distancing, proper personal hygiene and staying at home as much as possible.

Wong agreed, reiterating "this is not the time to slacken and let our guard down". 

He also urged the community to continue "to abide with the spirit of the guidelines and not just the letter of the law", to stay at home except for essential activities, and not to take the easing of restrictions as a signal that life can resume as normal.