COVID: Singapore bans dine-in from 22 July, social group limit back to 2

·Editor-in-Chief, News and Finance
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SINGAPORE — To manage the spike in COVID-19 community cases and the rate the new clusters are growing, Singapore will return to its Phase 2 (Heightened Alert) measures and ban dine-in at food and beverage (F&B) establishments from Thursday (22 July) to 18 August. 

In a press release on Tuesday, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said that this is to reduce the risk of community transmission. 

During this period of close to four weeks, both indoor and outdoor dine-in F&B establishments, including hawker centres and food courts, will only be able to offer takeaway and delivery options. 

Similarly, strenuous indoor exercise classes, or strenuous individual and group indoor sports and exercise activities, will also cease, the MOH said. "In addition, personalised services which require masks to be removed (e.g. facials, saunas, makeup services), singing, and the playing of instruments that require intentional expulsion of air (e.g. wind or brass instruments) will also not be allowed," the ministry said.

While it is "most unsettling for the affected industries and the establishments", said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung at a virtual press conference on Tuesday, "we are so close... weeks away to a stage where we have two thirds or more of our population fully vaccinated around National Day". 

"Now is really not the time to risk it all," said Ong, who is also co-chair of the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce (MTF).

Speed of spread of COVID-19

"Unlike the earlier KTV cluster which largely affected younger population segments, the current Jurong Fishery Port cluster is spreading among a wider segment of the population, including the elderly, who are at highest risk should they contract the virus. It has also spread to several markets in the community, which are frequented by seniors," said Minister for Trade and Industry and MTF co-chair Gan Kim Yong at the conference.

He shared that in the last seven days, there were some 81 seniors aged 60 and above who were infected – 12 among them were unvaccinated. 

"This is of great concern to us because almost 30 per cent of the elderly population above 70 years old remain unvaccinated. Overall, close to 50 per cent of our resident population is still not fully vaccinated and therefore not fully protected," he added. 

Thus, there is a need to temporarily slow down the spread of the virus "to give us time to raise the coverage of our vaccination programme, especially among the older population", Gan said. 

Unvaccinated seniors can significantly affect hospital capacity

Ong said that protecting Singapore's hospital capacity was an important consideration when the MTF discussed the latest restrictions. 

There are some 200,000 seniors above 60 years old who are not vaccinated, he said, and they have a high likelihood of falling critically ill if infected. "Almost every one of them, if infected, will end up in the hospital, because they are high risk, and 10 to 15 per cent of them, based on our experience, will end up in ICU (Intensive Care Unit)," Ong said.  

"So, imagine 200,000 people, if we have widespread infection, just 10 per cent of them... get infected, that's 20,000. All 20,000 will be in hospital. Among them, 10 to 15 per cent – that's two to 3,000 – will end up in ICU. Huge, huge number."

Group sizes reduced to a maximum of 2 persons

Permissible group sizes for social gatherings will also be reduced from a maximum of five persons to a maximum of two persons, together with a cap of two distinct visitors per household per day. 

"Individuals should continue to limit their overall number of social gatherings to not more than two per day, whether to another household, or meeting with friends and family members in a public place," the MOH said. 

To allow families’ current childcare arrangements to continue, grandchildren being cared for daily by their grandparents will not be counted towards the cap of two distinct visitors per household, or to the number of social gatherings per day. 

"Grandparents are strongly encouraged to be vaccinated against COVID-19, to protect both themselves and their grandchildren. To reduce the risk of transmission, grandparents should also minimise intermingling between grandchildren from different households," the MOH said. 

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