Singapore Eases Office Restraints for Workers as Virus Ebbs

(Bloomberg) — Singapore will allow more people who are presently working from home to return to office as the number of community cases has remained low. © Bloomberg A pedestrian wearing a protective mask walks through the garden area at Guoco Tower during a phased lockdown due to the coronavirus […]

(Bloomberg) — Singapore will allow more people who are presently working from home to return to office as the number of community cases has remained low.



a person walking down a street: A pedestrian wearing a protective mask walks through the garden area at Guoco Tower during a phased lockdown due to the coronavirus in the central business district of Singapore, on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Mostly empty offices, staggered work hours, face shields and contact tracing -- that's what Singapore's cautious return to work will look like under the watchful gaze of the hub's financial regulator. The authority's approach is part of a phased reopening of the city-state, which has been under one of the longest lockdowns in Asia as authorities battled a second wave of coronavirus infections.


© Bloomberg
A pedestrian wearing a protective mask walks through the garden area at Guoco Tower during a phased lockdown due to the coronavirus in the central business district of Singapore, on Tuesday, June 2, 2020. Mostly empty offices, staggered work hours, face shields and contact tracing — that’s what Singapore’s cautious return to work will look like under the watchful gaze of the hub’s financial regulator. The authority’s approach is part of a phased reopening of the city-state, which has been under one of the longest lockdowns in Asia as authorities battled a second wave of coronavirus infections.

Though working from home remains the default, the updated requirements allow office staff to return up to half their working time, with no more than half of such employees at the workplace at any point in time, the health ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. The city-state will also allow work-related events within the workplace premises like conferences, seminars and corporate retreats to resume, for up to 50 people, the government said.

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Authorities said the updated measures were “carefully considered to balance the concerns of employers regarding the impact of extended periods of working-from-home on productivity and workplace relations, while creating safe workplaces for employees,” it said. The updated measures will take effect from Sept. 28.

In addition, all religious organizations will be allowed to conduct congregational and other worship services for up to 100 persons from Oct. 3, the ministry said. The government is also considering a pilot to increase worship limits up to 250 persons, with more details to come.

The announcement comes as the number of daily cases in Singapore has dropped significantly in recent months following partial lockdown measures imposed at the start of April. Since then, cases have been kept at low levels through mandatory mask-wearing and other social distancing measures as the economy largely re-opened in June. The country has also ramped up containment strategies, including contact-tracing and targeted testing.

As of Wednesday at noon, the city-state recorded 12 new infections, down from more than a thousand cases a day at the height of the outbreak. Of the more than 57,000 known cases of the virus in Singapore since the pandemic began, nearly 95% are among migrant workers living in dormitories.

Here are more details of the updated measures as well as comments from the briefing:

Authorities will consider allowing the resumption of work-related events at external venues at a later dateCompanies must not organize or encourage larger scale social gatherings within or outside the workplace such as parties, celebrations, team bonding activities, dinner-and-dance, and gala dinnersEmployers must continue to ensure clear physical spacing of at least 1 meter and demarcate safe physical distancesSingapore will be expanding the current pilot for wedding receptions and marriage solemnizations to allow up to 100 attendees from Oct. 3Cinemas will be allowed to expand their capacities from Oct. 1New business travel pass for senior executives in Singapore being pilotedGovernment is adjusting the legal cut-off age for children to wear masks to 6 years old and above, up from the current 2 years old and above.Results of the community testing operations indicate very low prevalence rates in the community: health ministryThe end of the pandemic is still “some way” off: health minister Gan Kim Yong

“If all goes well, if we can continue to maintain this level of compliance and we can continue to control the infection well, then we will be able to continue with this path of resuming and opening up our economy and our society,” Lawrence Wong, the education minister who is the co-chairman of the virus task force, said during the briefing.

Wong said the government is working on the road map to phase three, the so-called stage where limited-sized social, cultural, religious and business gatherings or events would resume until a vaccine is developed. These plans could be shared in a few weeks, he said.

Dormitories Testing

Meanwhile, in the foreign worker dormitories, the government announced earlier on Wednesday it would pilot additional testing there, effectively increasing the frequency to a seven-day cycle from 14 days. This is “to understand how more frequent testing will enable earlier detection of asymptomatic cases among migrant workers,” according to a joint government press release.

Wong said at the briefing that authorities will need a few rounds of regular testing at the dormitories before the country can continue to see a decline in cases there. Even though those facilities were declared clear of the virus last month, clusters have persisted.

(Updates with Wong’s comments on worker dormitories’ cases in last paragraph.)

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©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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