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Restrictions on track to be ‘relaxed’ after June 13, says PM Lee who spells out ways to keep Covid-19 under control

SINGAPORE — Singapore is on track to relax more stringent rules to combat Covid-19 after June 13, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday (May 31).

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking in a live broadcast to the nation on May 31, 2021.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaking in a live broadcast to the nation on May 31, 2021.

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  • PM Lee Hsien Loong said Singapore is on track to relax the ongoing tighter Covid-19 limits after June 13
  • This is contingent on the coronavirus situation continuing to improve and community infections falling further
  • He also sketched out a new approach to keeping Covid-19 under control by testing, contact tracing and vaccinating more quickly and widely

 

SINGAPORE — Singapore is on track to relax more stringent rules to combat Covid-19 after June 13, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday (May 31).

He also sketched out the country's new approach to keeping the coronavirus under control by testing, tracing close contacts of infected persons and vaccinating more quickly and widely than before.

Speaking in a live broadcast to the nation, Mr Lee said that the number of daily cases has come down and the recent outbreak that necessitated tighter measures was on track to be brought under control, barring another big cluster or super-spreader event.

Singapore went into Phase Two (heightened alert) on May 16 to contain the coronavirus, banning dining in at eateries and capping gatherings to two persons.

Mr Lee said: “We will know for sure in another week or so. Meanwhile, I count on everyone to keep up our efforts and stay vigilant.

“If our situation continues to improve, and the number of community cases falls further, we should be able to relax the restrictions after June 13.”

Stressing that Singapore is in a better position than a year ago, Mr Lee outlined the strategy to deal with more infectious variants of Covid-19 that are now widespread.

“Specifically, there are three things that we have to do more of and faster: Testing, contact tracing and vaccination.”

TESTING

On testing, Mr Lee said that Singapore would shift its approach towards faster and more liberal ways to detect Covid-19 cases. 

This would mean that “routine, large-scale, fast and simple testing” will be part of the new normal.

“Henceforth, we will not only test to identify infections when a new case pops up. We will also routinely and regularly test people who appear well, in normal work or social or community settings, to make these places safe.” 

Doing so will give people confidence to resume larger-scale events or gatherings, he said. 

Singapore could, for instance, deploy fast tests before religious services, football games, concerts or wedding receptions to assure participants that the event is safe from the coronavirus.

Right now, general practitioners and clinics are already using a quick but less accurate antigen rapid test on patients with acute respiratory infections as well as a more accurate polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. 

The antigen rapid test can show a result within 30 minutes, as opposed to the days it may take for a PCR test. 

If the antigen rapid test comes back positive, the patient would be isolated immediately and a PCR test can confirm the result later, thus reducing the chances of infecting others.

Mr Lee added that Singapore would also deploy one-minute Covid-19 breath tests at the Causeway and at Changi Airport.

With faster and cheaper tests available, rostered routine testing — which is already done in higher-risk settings such as migrant worker dormitories, construction worksites and hospitals — could also be rolled out to more workplaces such as offices, restaurants and shopping centres.

Those in jobs that could result in super-spreading events because of close contact with many people may also be tested regularly under rostered routine testing. They include taxi drivers and bus drivers, physiotherapists, masseurs, stage performers, sports and fitness instructors and educators.

Soon, people will also be able to buy do-it-yourself Covid-19 tests over pharmacy counters.

“They are simple to use and not so uncomfortable. You can administer these on your own," he added.

“These alternatives to PCR tests help us detect and isolate persons quickly when they are most infectious. This will be a big help in slowing down the spread of Covid-19. As the virus mutates to become more transmissible, we must respond by testing more widely.”

CONTACT TRACING

The authorities will be casting the net wider with contact-tracing as well as isolating more contacts of new cases of Covid-19, Mr Lee said.

Today, first-degree close contacts of coronavirus cases are being isolated and tested immediately, but their family members will be isolated only if the close contacts test positive.

In future, household members of close contacts will be notified to isolate themselves immediately, a change from the previous approach.

If the first-degree contact later tests negative, his or her household members will be released from isolation. 

Mr Lee said: “If the first-degree contact tests positive, we will have saved precious time by isolating household members earlier.

“This more aggressive approach will help us to shut down clusters more quickly.” 

The experience in Singapore so far has shown that an infected close contact was quite likely to infect others from the same household, he added.

Responding to a question from the media about this change at a press conference after Mr Lee’s speech, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) medical services director, said that household members may be contacted via text messages to self-isolate.

The authorities may also place these household members under quarantine orders and rescind them only when the first-degree contact has tested negative, he said, adding that MOH is still working out the details.

Assoc Prof Mak asked for the public’s cooperation: “This is done with the best intent to make sure that we control the infection quickly and decisively.”

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung added that 70 per cent of all linked cases today are household transmissions. "So, I think this is a worthwhile measure to take," he said.

Mr Lee thanked Singaporeans for their self-discipline, public spirit and support of the TraceTogether and SafeEntry contact-tracing tools.

“With SafeEntry, it can identify thousands of people who had visited the same places as the infected cases and inform these potential contacts to come forward for a free Covid-19 test. 

“This is what we did for White Sands, Jem and Westgate (malls), and now NTUC Foodfare (food court) in Anchorvale,” he said, referring to recent Covid-19 clusters that broke out at these places.

VACCINATION

Finally, Mr Lee said that Singapore would vaccinate more people and in a quicker manner. 

He noted that the authorities have made good progress since vaccinations began in December last year. 

“Our healthcare and front-line workers, and the majority of those 45 and above, have already received at least their first dose,” he said. “These are the ones more at risk from Covid-19.” 

Vaccination of those between the ages of 40 and 44 is under way.

Related topics

Lee Hsien Loong Covid-19 coronavirus transmission vaccination Covid-19 testing

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