updates to take note of as Singapore exits Stabilisation Phase for COVID-19

This comes as Singapore exits its Stabilisation Phase, and as part of the exit strategy, in-person visits to hospitals and residential care homes will resume, among other activities.

Starting from 22 November 2021 (Monday), Singapore's COVID-19 management strategy will be eased further as the nation exits the recently extended Stabilisation Phase (from 20 October to 21 November 2021).

According to the Multi-Ministry Taskforce, this exit strategy will see updates to group sizes for dine-in and social gatherings (from two to five persons); Vaccination-Differentiated Safe Management Measures (VDS); in-person visits to hospitals and residential care homes; government support measures (Jobs Support Scheme), and the nation's booster vaccination programme.

This decision was made after the government noted that the week-on-week ratio of community cases has remained stable at around 0.8 to 1.0 the past week. At the same time, daily case numbers have come down to less than 3,000 a day on average.

"Out of the infected cases, close to 99% of cases continue to have mild or no symptoms and the vast majority are recovering well at home," the Ministry of Health (MOH) shared. Further, the proportion of patients who require oxygen supplementation "has held steady" at 0.8% of Singapore's total cases, and those who require intensive care unit (ICU) care is at 0.2% in the past 28 days.

"The number of cases in the ICU remains high but stable in the past week at around 120 cases per day," MOH added.

On that note, there are seven key updates summarised below. Scroll down for more details.

  1. Increase in social gathering group size from two to five;
  2. Increase in dine-in pax from two to five, regardless of whether the vaccinated individuals are from the same household or not;
  3. Expansion of VDS to more venues (i.e. national libraries);
  4. Resumption of in-person visits to hospitals and residential care homes;
  5. Adjustments and extensions in government support schemes;
  6. Acceleration of the booster vaccination programme (i.e. booster available five months after the second dose), and
  7. Workplace restrictions remain in place.

#1 Increase in social gathering group size from two to five

From 22 November 2021, the permissible social gathering group size will be increased from two persons to five persons. The cap of two distinct visitors per household per day will correspondingly increase to five distinct visitors per household per day

MOH noted that, as far as possible, hosts should accept only visitors who are vaccinated "to protect those who are unvaccinated from exposure to the virus." The Ministry further reminded that unvaccinated individuals should "also exercise caution and protect themselves by reducing their movement and staying at home as much as possible."

Should any households have unvaccinated visitors or vulnerable elderly, both host and guests are strongly encouraged to test themselves prior to the visit to ensure no one unwittingly transmits COVID-19 to those who are vulnerable.

In terms of wedding solemnisations and wedding receptions, couples may be unmasked throughout the reception or solemnisation event, and members of the wedding party can sing, subject to additional precautions.

Both groups are, however, required to

  • Undergo an Antigen Rapid Test (ART) minimally supervised by the venue operator, or
  • Have a valid PET obtained within 24 hours prior to the event.

"More details will be provided in a separate advisory by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF)," the Ministry shared.

#2 Up to five now allowed to dine-in together, regardless of household

In a similar vein, groups of up to five persons, even if not from the same household, will be allowed to dine-in at F&B establishments if all diners are fully vaccinated. Unvaccinated children aged 12 years and below (i.e. born in 2009 or later) may be included within the group of five persons as long as all these children are from the same household.

For those who are medically ineligible to be vaccinated, the same rule applies that they may also be included within such groups of five persons, but from 1 December 2021.

A point to note, with regard to F&B establishments like hawker centres and coffee shops, is that the group of five will only be allowed to dine-in there when full VDS checks have been implemented

According to a joint advisory by the National Environment Agency and Singapore Food Agency, from 23 November (Tuesday), an initial batch of 11 hawker centres would have put in place vaccination checks at access points to allow this. Similarly, coffee shops that have implemented the necessary control measures will be able to accommodate dine-in groups of up to five fully vaccinated persons regardless of household effective the same date.

[Refer here for the full advisory, including details on the 11 hawker centres and the relevant coffeeshops.]

Otherwise, the cap for dining-in at hawker centres and coffee shops without full VDS checks will remain at groups of up to two fully-vaccinated persons. Meanwhile, unvaccinated individuals are still not allowed to dine-in and may continue to only take-away food from these establishments.

#3 VDS expanded to more settings, including all NLB libraries

From 1 December 2021, Singapore's VDS will be expanded to more settings and activities, including in all libraries under the National Library Board (NLB), and selected activities in community clubs/centres under the People’s Association (PA). The Ministry explained: "By restricting entry to only individuals who have been fully vaccinated, the nation can further reduce the risk of transmission in such settings."

In addition, the current rules of allowing an unvaccinated individual with a negative PET test to enter a VDS setting (i.e. shopping malls) will be scrapped. Hence, only fully vaccinated, recovered, or medically ineligible individuals, or children aged 12 years and below (subject to venue/event-specific caps) will be allowed to enter settings where VDS is implemented.

The aforementioned will take effect on 1 January 2022, to allow time for more individuals to complete their primary series vaccination regime.

#4 Resumption of in-person visits to hospitals and homes with enhanced VDS from 22 Nov

From 22 November, in-person visits to hospitals and homes with enhanced VDS-related measures in place will resume. They are allowed in the following permutation below:

lester sg covid smm visiting screenshot

#5 Jobs Support Scheme to be tapered down to 10%

During the Stabilisation Phase, the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) was capped at 25% for sectors such as F&B, retail, cinemas, museums, art galleries, historical sites, family entertainment, tourism, gyms and fitness studios, and performing arts and arts education.

Starting 22 November, the exit of the Stabilisation Phase will however see JSS capped at 10%. This will continue until 19 December 2021. Personal care services will continue without JSS (as they did previously) because "they were not affected by the restrictions in the Stabilisation Phase," MOH said.

As shared by Minister for Transport, S Iswaran, work-from-home continues to be the default arrangement (screenshot below). Thus, other support schemes to note in this time period are:

  • A 0.5-month rental waiver for the cooked food and market stallholders in centres managed by NEA or NEA-appointed operators, and
  • A COVID-19 Driver Relief Fund payout at S$10 and S$5 per vehicle per day in December 2021 and January 2022 respectively, for taxi and private hire car drivers. This latest total payout of S$10 per vehicle per day in December 2021 supersedes the S$5 per vehicle per day payout announced previously.

"The total sum of the support measures is S$90m. This will be funded from the higher-than-expected revenues collected to-date. There will be no further draw on Past Reserves," MOH shared.

s iswaran screenshot

#6 Booster shots now available five months from date of complete vaccination

For context, based on an earlier recommendation from the Expert Committee on COVID-19 Vaccination (EC19V), the Ministry has been administering boosters six months after the second dose for those aged 30 to 59, and five months after the second dose for those aged 60 and above.

However, after more research, it is evident that waning of antibodies can clearly occur by around six months after the second dose, and occur earlier for older groups. Thus, it is crucial interval periods for boosters are standardised for all age groups, according to MOH.

With that, all eligible persons will now be able to receive their booster doses starting from five months after the completion of their primary series (typically with two doses of the mRNA vaccines), and SMS invitations will be sent to them before that.

Those who are eligible based on the criteria to-date (aged 30 and above, frontline workers at higher risk of COVID-19 infection, etc.), but have not received their SMS invitations, are also invited to walk in to any Moderna vaccination centre to receive their booster vaccination without a need to book an appointment.

#7 Workplace restrictions remain in place

One of the key messages shared in this announcement was that easing is deliberately focused on the areas mentioned. For other areas, such as workplace restrictions, one of which includes work-from-home, there is currently no easing. As Minister Iswaran shared in his Facebook post, work-from-home remains the default arrangement.

As such, at the MTF press conference, Minister Lawrence Wong explained: "You will notice that in this round, we have deliberately focused the easing measures on just one key parameter, which is to move from two persons to five persons, and we are doing this together with further tightening of our vaccination-differentiated safe management measures.

"There have been requests for other moves, to ease in other areas, for example, to relax capacity limits for attractions, for malls, and to ease restrictions in workplaces – a whole range of other areas where we could also relax the measures further but we have decided to hold all of these back."

As such, the easing of other restrictions will be held back "for the time being" as the government monitors the situation over the next few weeks.

Minister Wong also added that if the overall situation remains stable, our health care system remains stable, the Taskforce can consider the next series of moves around end of December.

Image / Minister Ong Ye Kung's Facebook

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