Singapore eases Covid-19 curbs, including vaccinated travel
Singapore is moving ahead with a plan to significantly ease longstanding Covid-19 curbs, lifting most restrictions for fully vaccinated visitors and a requirement to wear masks outdoors, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
With the latest wave of the virus subsiding, the prime minister said that Singapore will double the group size from the current five persons to 10 and allow up to 75% of employees who can work from home to return to their workplaces, he said. The city-state will also “drastically streamline” testing and quarantine requirements for travelers.
“Earlier, we were cautious because of uncertainty over Omicron’s impact,” Lee said in a televised speech, adding the changes will take effect on March 29 with senior officials to elaborate momentarily. “Taking all things into consideration, we believe that we are now ready to take a decisive step forward towards living with Covid-19.”
The move will give a much-needed boost to businesses, particularly the tourism sector, while the domestic and cross-border changes represent a major step towards living with Covid-19. “But they stop short of a complete opening up,” he said. “We remain watchful because Covid-19 may yet bring further surprises.”
Singapore joins other Southeast Asian countries, including Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam, that are taking steps to allow vaccinated travelers to enter freely, replacing mandatory quarantine with Covid-19 testing. Senior officials have said Singapore is looking to restore passenger volume at Changi Airport to at least 50% of pre-pandemic levels by later this year, compared to 18.2% currently.
“Wearing mask outdoors will now be optional,” Lee said. “This is because the risk of outdoor transmission is significantly lower. But indoors, masks will still be mandatory.”
Boasting a 95% vaccination rate among the eligible population, Singapore is proceeding with its plans to treat the virus as endemic, pledging earlier this month to relax in stages virus curbs that have been in place since early in the pandemic. At the same time, it has eased up on home visitation and safe distancing measures, and lifted capacity for sports, religious services and business events in what the government has termed a streamlining of the rules.
Here are other singnificant changes announced Thursday:
- Current rules restricting the sale and consumption of alcohol after 10.30 p.m. in restaurants and bars will be lifted
- Indoor and outdoor live performances and busking will be allowed to resume
- F&B establishments won’t need to check vaccination status for groups of five, with random spot checks being done instead
- Larger-scale social gatherings including gala dinners, corporate dinner-and-dance events, birthday celebrations and anniversaries can go ahead
- Capacity limits of 50% for large events and settings of more than 1,000 people will be increased to 75%
- Second boosters will be recommended for those aged 80 and above and the medically vulnerable five months after their previous shot, with no plans for the rest of the population for now
The reopening in Southeast Asia has been slower than in other parts of the world such as Europe and the U.S., where wearing face masks and social distancing have been dropped after the best part of two years. Passenger volumes at flag carrier Singapore Airlines Ltd. were just 26% of pre-Covid levels at the end of 2021.
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