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Here’s what it will take to reopen Singapore’s economy

·4-min read
Customers seen inside a shop selling traditional Chinese medicine products in Clementi on 12 May 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
Customers seen inside a shop selling traditional Chinese medicine products in Clementi on 12 May 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

By Philip J. Heijmans

(Bloomberg) -- Singapore will this week lay out how it intends to roll back restrictions put in place since early April. Officials have said any lifting of its partial lockdown will be done in a gradual and calibrated manner.

This has already begun. Last week, hair salons and laundry services were allowed to resume operations and on Friday, authorities said it will allow more construction labourers to return to work from June 2.

Officials have cautioned that cases in the community will go up as the country restarts activities, and the move to relax must be done in a way to prevent a second wave of infections. “It won’t simply be a return to life before the circuit breaker,” Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said in a Facebook posting on Sunday. “A controlled and phased exit from the circuit breaker will require patience and discipline from all of us.”

With two weeks to go before the city-state’s so-called “circuit breaker” draws to a close on June 1, here are some of the factors Singapore is looking at before key measures can be eased.

Number of cases

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has said that before key restrictions can be lifted, the number of infections in the wider community outside of migrant worker groups should “ideally” fall to zero or single digits daily.

Gan also said the number of cases would need to come down in heavily impacted migrant worker dormitories where infections make up over 90% of the city-state’s total caseload since the outbreak began. The number of confirmed daily cases there have fallen, from more than a thousand over a string of days in the second half of April to an average of about 670 a day in the past seven days. The total number of cases in Singapore topped 28,000 as of May 17.

Work procedures

Businesses will need to adhere to a series of precautions before they can resume operations. They include implementing a system of safe-management measures, including appointing safe-management officers. They must also reduce physical interactions and ensure safe-distancing measures, such as allowing employees to work from home if possible and staggering work hours.

They would also need to support contact-tracing requirements, as well as require all on-site employees and visitors to wear masks. Companies need to ensure clean workplaces as well as implement health checks and protocols to manage potential cases.

For the small percentage of construction workers who are headed back to work, they will need to be regularly tested for the virus, wear masks, and have their social interactions managed.


As businesses in Singapore begin to reopen, the government plans to step up its testing capability and capacity, officials have said. The government is seeking to bolster its testing capacity fivefold, from about 8,000 a day to as many as 40,000 tests daily by later this year. All of the more than 300,000 foreign workers in the country’s dormitories will be tested as well, according to Wong, who co-chairs a taskforce with Gan to fight the virus.

Besides the workers, the government also plans to progressively test all 16,000 seniors staying in nursing homes by early June, as well as 5,000 other residents and staff in welfare, shelter and adult disability homes.

Aside from these vulnerable groups, Singapore will prioritize testing for frontline workers caring for infected patients, those with with respiratory illness as well as migrant workers where repeated tests are needed even though they’ve been cleared. Test kits will have to be allocated for workers in essential services such as waste management, logistics and finance.

“Testing will be a national resource, which we will apply in a strategic way to ensure that Singapore is safe from the virus,” according to Wong on May 9.

Contact Tracing

Safe entry checks to supermarkets and malls was made compulsory from May 12. The government also said it is looking into more technology solutions such as an enhanced app or dongle to help with contact tracing.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has said that Singapore needs to make full use of information technology to combat the coronavirus outbreak, urging more residents to use its contact-tracing mobile app called TraceTogether. This was rolled out in March, but has been installed by 1.4 million users out of Singapore’s 5.7 million residents. And not all of them turned on Bluetooth, a prerequisite for the app to work.

Global Situation

The government will need to assess the situation globally, including that of individual countries to inform the extent and approach on re-opening Singapore’s borders, Gan has said. For any border re-opening, the Southeast Asian nation will likely “start small and selectively” and continue to impose a mix of isolation and test requirements, he said.

It is prepared to work bilaterally with countries and regions if there are sufficient precautions, such as testing before departure and upon arrival, according to Wong. Singapore will also take into consideration factors including infection rates in countries and the types of precautions in place.

© 2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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