Singapore Eases Work-From-Home Rules as Local Virus Cases Ebb

Singapore will relax workplace measures to allow more people to return to offices and permit larger gatherings for various activities, as the city-state gets its virus situation under control.

At offices, the government’s stance will shift from working-from-home as a default to a more “flexible and hybrid way of working”, where up to 75% of staff can be at the workplace at any one time from April 5, up from the current 50%, the health ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the size limits for live performances, pilot conferences and sports events will be allowed to increase to up to 750 attendees from April 24, if they implement pre-event testing.

As of March 23, around 1.1 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered, according to the ministry, making Singapore one of the fastest countries for vaccinations per capita in the Asia-Pacific region to date, according to the Bloomberg global vaccine tracker. Singapore will now expand its inoculation program to younger age groups, after having initially focused on the elderly and essential workers. People from 45 to 59 years old can register their interest for vaccination immediately.

“We move forward in a controlled, steady manner, looking at data, looking at evidence every step of the way and adjusting our measures,” Lawrence Wong, the education minister who co-chairs the virus taskforce, said at a briefing.

The easing of the measures come as Singapore, with a population of about 5.7 million people, has seen zero new daily cases in either the local community, or migrant worker dormitories that were once a hot spot for infection, for almost two weeks. Officials have attributed the success to a series of stringent measures that includes mandatory mask wearing, strict border controls, social distancing and rigorous testing and treatment.

Here are more details of the eased measures:

  • Split team arrangements at workplaces are no longer mandatory, though restrictions against cross-deployment remain
  • Social and recreational gatherings, such as team bonding events, will be allowed but must be limited to no more than 8 persons; meals should not be the main feature of the event, and companies should avoid holding events over mealtimes as much as possible
  • Employers must continue to implement prevailing safe management measures such as regular cleaning of common spaces and mask wearing at all times
  • People who have completed the full vaccination regimen and have had time to develop sufficient protection can enter events without having to undergo pre-event testing

The government cautioned that as the situation continues to be “dynamic”, it will have to re-introduce more stringent measures at workplaces if there is a resurgence of the virus. Still, “as a larger proportion of our population becomes vaccinated, we can look forward to further reopening,” the health ministry said in its statement.

Today’s easing comes nearly a year after Singapore imposed a nationwide two-month partial lockdown. But even with low rates of infection in recent months, the task of resuming certain activities in Singapore’s tourism-dependent economy has proved difficult. Borders remain largely closed, and a planned travel bubble with Hong Kong was canceled before it began because cases spiked in Hong Kong.

– Bloomberg

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