Many things were covered during the Prime Minister’s speech and the following Multi-Taskforce Ministry Press Conference today, ranging from the long-awaited changes in the safety management measures, vaccinated travel framework, to how the school curriculum will be conducted.
Compared to the previous press conferences, it possesses a more hopeful note that there might be an endemic in sight, since it ultimately revolved around relaxing the COVID-19 restrictions.
Here are six facts you ought to know about the press conference that was held today, immediately after PM Lee’s speech.
The Need for a Fourth Vaccine Shot?
The conclusion for this particular topic is finally out in the open.
The fourth vaccination shot, or the second boosted dose, is highly recommended (not compulsory) for only the following groups:
- Seniors above the age of 80
- Aged care residents
- Individuals with chronic diseases in the heart, lungs, kidneys, and other organs.
Their fourth dose should be administered five months after the previous dose.
The reasoning behind this is that the former category has shown to be more “medically susceptible” to severe symptoms of COVID-19, since the effectiveness of the vaccinations wane faster for them.
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Whereas for the younger age category, it has been proven through studies that their immunity systems are more robust, the effectiveness of the vaccines lasts longer, and they are at lower risk for getting severe infections.
In light of these facts, the number of vaccination centres will be reduced starting from the end of April to free up those spaces for other activities.
Updated Safety Management Measures
Another big take-away from this Multi-Taskforce Ministry Press Conference is the fact that starting from 29 March 2022, there will be a greater relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions.
Firstly, masks are no longer mandatory in outside areas and public spaces, but they will still be necessary indoors.
However, if the congregation or gathering happens to involve vocalisation activities such as singing or public readings for instance, masks still have to be worn.
Secondly, the maximum dining group size has been increased from 5 to 10 for fully vaccinated people.
In order to ease operational burdens on F&B outlets, SafeEntry checks at entrances are no longer mandatory and F&B staff can allow up to five fully vaccinated people to enter the establishment without having to conduct any checks.
But vaccination checks will still be made at random by the staff at F&B outlets, with the TraceTogether application remaining as the most secure and accurate means to check a customer’s vaccination status.
Thirdly, the restriction that there will be no alcohol consumption after 10:30pm has officially been lifted.
Live entertainment and live streaming events can be resumed at various establishments, which includes live performances as well.
For nightlife businesses, however, the resumption of such activities is still under consideration for the next two to four weeks, as the COVID-19 situation continues to improve and stabilise, since it bears a higher risk of transmission.
Fourthly, 75% of the workforce are allowed to return to their workplace instead of having to work from home.
The capacity limit for larger events and settings with more than 1,000 people will be increased by 75% as well, but the previous protocols regarding large events still apply.
Larger-scale social gatherings, such as gala dinners, D&Ds and birthday celebrations, can be resumed.
Lastly, group vocalisation activities such as singing will be allowed as long as the participants are masked.
This includes Karaoke, choirs, or mass singing of school songs, national anthem, and the reciting of the pledge in schools.
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Vaccinated Travel Lanes to Vaccinated Travel Framework
Similarly, to how the Health Ministers have been working on the full resumption of travelling between Singapore and Malaysia, Transport Minister S Iswaran announced that Singapore will be re-opening its borders fully.
Starting from 1 April, any fully vaccinated person will be able to travel without the need for quarantine upon arrival.
The difference between the Vaccinated Travel Framework (VTF) and pre-pandemic travelling is that countries will now be separated into two categories: General and Restricted.
It’s as easy to understand as it sounds; countries in the general category are free to come and go from Singapore quarantine-free, whereas countries in the restricted category are regions of concern.
Simply put, the latter category is like a “countries to avoid for the time being” list, in the event that they might have been infected with a new strain of the coronavirus, or they’re facing a particularly high number of cases which could bring more imported cases into Singapore.
Travellers from other countries in the general category can come to Singapore as long as they are fully vaccinated, and haven’t been in any countries in the restricted category seven days preceding their arrival to Singapore.
The VTF also means that there will no longer be quotas on air and sea travel, and there will be no need to apply for Vaccinated Travel Passes to come to Singapore.
Additionally, the Singapore Arrival Card—which is an electronic health declaration form—will be simplified for travellers.
On-arrival tests will no longer be necessary, nor will stay-home notices be issued.
However, travellers are still required to proof negative ART/PCR test results two days before departure. This is unlikely to change any time soon, but is also under the process of review.
The Transport Minister reports that the traffic in Changi Airport has reached 18.2% of pre-pandemic levels, but aims to increase it to 50% by the mid-year to re-establish Singapore’s name as an international travelling hub.
Risk-Balancing for Students’ Learning Experience
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the way education has been conducted was forced to change into a mix of in-class and home-based learning.
To keep pace with the updated Safety Management Measures, and in consideration of the students’ holistic education, Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing announced three main changes to the current education system.
For one, cross-school sporting events will be restored for 29 sports, as will the Singapore Youth Festival (SYF), which is mainly geared towards the Arts and Music clubs.
Secondly, for selected lessons like languages or literacy, teachers and students will be allowed to remove their masks, as there have been remarks that the masks impede the perception and articulation of speech.
Mr Chan adds, “The mask-off option will allow students who require more support in their acquisition and development of languages to benefit from a multisensory and pedagogical approach for visual and auditory cues.”
In the second phase, the Ministry of Education (MOE) hopes to expand the mask-off option for teachers teaching language and literacy to Primary 1 and 2 students.
Thirdly, the MOE encourages the re-establishment of overseas exchange and exposure programmes, because he believes that it’s important for the students to understand the world around them and broaden their horizons.
According to the updated Safety Management Measures, assemblies and small social gatherings are allowed again.
But some Safe Management Measures specific to schools remain in place, like practicing good personal hygiene, the wipe-down routines to keep the common areas clean, and the properly ventilating the classroom with opened windows and fans.
Shift in Hospital Resources
Besides progressively reducing the number of vaccination centres across the island, some of the resources once dedicated to COVID-19 cases will be shifted back to “Business-as-Usual” (BAU) cases, of whom have chronic diseases.
Hospitals still remain quite busy, though it’s not from a huge influx of COVID-19 cases.
Rather, owing to the prioritisation of infection cases over the past two to three years, it has caused a debt or backlog of BAU cases.
Therefore, hospital resources will be shifted back to the usual cases that hospitals had to cope with on a regular basis before the pandemic struck.
To further help with the caseload, the Ministry of Health has announced that three more nursing homes will be opened in Pasir Ris, Potong Pasir, and Henderson in April.
“This will help relieve a significant number of patients from hospitals and these are patients currently in hospitals waiting for their nursing home places,” said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.
The existing COVID Treatment Facilities (CTF) at Tampines will also be converted back to its original function as a nursing home, and the Sengkang Community Hospital will be reconfigured to accept BAU patients.
Expansion of COVID Protocol 2 to Younger Children
Starting from 25 March, children aged from 12 months to 2 years old will be allowed to recover at home or under the care of the primary care doctor, should they catch COVID-19.
In essence, it means that the younger age category will also be managed under COVID-19 Protocol 2 by default, where they merely have to self-isolate if they are only having little to mild symptoms.
The COVID-19 protocols had previously been streamlined to allow for more home recovery to alleviate the burden on clinics and hospitals, and because it was assessed that those between the age of 3 to 69 are perfectly capable of recovering on their own.
The move to expand the protocol coverage was fuelled by the clinical data in Singapore, which showed that children in their toddler stage can recover from the infection without much trouble.
In summary, the COVID-19 safety management measures are slowly easing away, but the Singapore government is choosing to remove the restriction in phases to ensure that everything flows back to normalcy smoothly.
This will be through five areas; watch this video to the end and you’d understand:
Singapore has definitely come a long way and things are looking up.
The omicron-dominant wave has fallen from its peaks, at least 97% of the eligible population are vaccinated, and the gears of economy and trade are moving properly again.
However, the ministries warn that we shouldn’t let out guard up and continue to remain vigilant against the virus by taking good care of our hygiene, and conducting regular tests to ensure that we’re healthy.
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