With Chinese New Year coming up, companies are not to organise gatherings and social activities such as lohei, as these are not considered work-related events, and are therefore not allowed.
Singapore's tripartite partners - the Ministry of Manpower, National Trades Union Congress and Singapore National Employers Federation - have stated that work-from-home should remain the default arrangement for now, in order to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmissions at the workplace.
The decision to postpone further adjustments to the current Workplace Safe Management Measures (SMM), despite Singapore's transition into Phase Three of reopening, was made due to the higher risk of "potentially more transmissible strains as well as recent trends in COVID-19 cases in the community (including at workplaces)".
It was noted that even under the current Workplace SMM, peak-hour travel on the public transport has increased by 11%, compared to November 2020.
As such, in the event employees have to report to the office, the tripartite partners have called on employers to implement staggered work hours "more extensively". "The public sector has contributed to this effort by enabling staff to adopt flexible workplace arrangements, such as hybrid working arrangements, flexible workplace hours and staggered start times."
Apart from the above, the tripartite partners highlighted:
"As we approach Chinese New Year, we also remind companies that they should not organise gatherings and social activities such as lohei or Chinese New Year meals, as these are not considered work-related events, and are therefore not allowed."
Recap on the prevailing Workplace Safe Management Measures
#1 Implement a system of Safe Management Measures at workplaces
Employers must establish a system to implement these measures to provide a safe working environment and minimise risks of further outbreaks. These measures must be implemented in a sustainable manner for as long as necessary.
#2 Reduce physical interaction and ensure safe distancing at workplaces
Where employees can perform their work by telecommuting (i.e. work-from-home), the employer must ensure that they do so, according to the Advisory.
#3 Support contact tracing requirements
Record proximity data on phones. To help the Ministry of Health to more quickly identify potential close contacts of COVID-19 patients, employers should encourage all employees to download and activate the TraceTogether app. Data recorded by TraceTogether is stored on the user’s phone, and is only uploaded when required by MOH, e.g. when the user is suspected to have COVID-19.
#4 Require personal protective equipment and observe good personal hygiene
Wearing of masks at the workplace. Employers must ensure that all onsite personnel, including employees, visitors, suppliers and contractors, wear a mask and other necessary personal protective equipment at all times at the workplace, except during activities that require masks to be removed.
#5 Ensure cleanliness of workplace premises
Employers should step up the cleaning of workplace premises. Ensure regular cleaning of common spaces, particularly areas with high human contact, such as counters where customers are served, rooms where visitors are hosted, as well as general public access areas such as lifts, pantries, toilets, and bin areas. Where physical meetings are held or meals are taken at common spaces such as pantries or canteens, employers must clean and disinfect tables between each meeting or seating.
Tightened safe management measures in Phase Three, including during Chinese New Year
In light of the latest COVID-19 situation in Singapore, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) has decided there is a need to calibrate the pace and scale at which certain activities in the community can resume.
At the same time, to further mitigate the risk of large community clusters arising from infections that spread within a household and through them to all their contacts, the Government will impose a cap of eight distinct visitors per household each day.
This will take effect from 26 January 2021, the Taskforce said in a press release. Individuals should also limit themselves to visiting at most two other households a day, as much as possible.
The MTF added: "The maximum group size for social gatherings outside the house will remain at eight people for now. That said, everyone should keep their social circle small instead of mixing with multiple social groups. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and impose further measures as necessary."
The MTF further noted that there will be an increased risk of community transmissions ruing the upcoming Chinese New Year period and, as such, "it is important that everyone cooperates with the new measures."
"In particular, those who are dining out should make sure they wear a mask if they are not eating or drinking. We already do not allow singing (including by diners) and other live performances at F&B establishments and work-related events where food is served. Diners should also avoid raising their voices, at all times."
This also means that face masks must be worn during the tossing of yusheng, and that the lohei should be done without any verbalisation of the usual auspicious phrases. F&B establishments and enterprises serving lohei must ensure that both the staff and patrons comply with these requirements.
The public is encouraged to connect with their friends and family instead of making physical visits. Those who would like to do house visits should limit their visits to family members and to not more than two other households a day. Singaporeans are also reminded that the prevailing rules at F&B establishments will apply to reunion dinners held within them.
In other words, there must not be any multiple table bookings. The only exception is for those from the same household. But even in such instances, there should not be any inter-mingling across tables.
The MTF said: "We will step up enforcement checks at F&B establishments, malls and other crowded public spaces during this period. Strict enforcement actions will be taken against individuals and operators who do not comply with safe management measure. The penalties include fines and prosecution in court, depending on the severity of the offence. For operators who do not comply with the measures, their operations will be suspended.
"With everyone’s cooperation, we can avoid sparking large clusters which may then necessitate further tightening of measures or even a reversion to Phase Two or Phase One measures."
In similar COVID-19 updates, in the same press release, the Taskforce also stated that from 27 January 2021, the Government will commence vaccination for seniors, starting with pilots in Ang Mo Kio and Tanjong Pagar, where larger numbers of seniors reside.
Vaccinations will then be progressively extended to seniors across the island from mid-February. Further, more vaccination centres will be set up over the next few weeks to ensure that all seniors can conveniently receive their vaccinations at a centre near to where they live. The vaccination centres will be located in high population catchment areas and/or along public transport routes for greater accessibility.
All seniors will receive personalised letters inviting them to make an appointment for their vaccinations. They will be able to make appointments online, or they can also visit selected Community Centres near them to book an appointment in-person.
In addition, community volunteers from the People’s Association, as well as Silver Generation Ambassadors will be conducting house visits and tapping on existing grassroots events, to answer queries and help them to book an appointment if necessary. Seniors will also be provided with information sheets with more details on the COVID-19 vaccine and the vaccination process.
Overall, the MTF highlighted: "While there will be some upcoming delays to the shipments of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines due to Pfizer's manufacturing plant upgrading, we will continue to monitor our supplies closely to ensure that we will have enough vaccines for all Singaporeans and long-term residents in Singapore by the third quarter of 2021."