Singapore to start Phase 3 of COVID-19 re-opening on December 28

SINGAPORE (CNA) – The long-awaited Phase 3 of Singapore’s re-opening will start on December 28, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced yesterday.

Social gatherings of up to eight people will be allowed in public, up from five currently. Households can receive up to eight visitors.

“So eight people can dine out together, or visit someone’s home. This will make it easier to hold family get-togethers during the festive period,” said Lee in a televised address to the nation.

He added that Singapore will also ease capacity limits in public places like malls, attractions and places of worship. “Because of your efforts, we are now ready to progress to Phase 3,” said Lee. “Phase 3 will begin in two weeks’ time, on December 28, so we will end the year with some good news.”

But the Prime Minister urged residents to not to let their guard down, as COVID-19 is “most likely still circulating silently within our community”. “Each of us needs to play our part. By all means make use of the higher limits and reconnect with friends and family, but please do not abandon your mindset of watchfulness and caution,” Lee said.

People visit terminal 3 of Singapore’s Changi Airport. PHOTO: XINHUA

“This is absolutely not the time to relax and let our guard down or to hold a big party, imagining that the problem is gone.”

Lee said progressing from Phase 2 to Phase 3 is a “calibrated, careful move”, and the government is easing restrictions in a controlled way to keep the COVID-19 situation stable. He urged everyone to continue to cooperate with the authorities, and comply with the rules and restrictions in Phase 3.More details on Phase 3 will be given by the COVID-19 multi-ministry task force after Lee’s address.

After exiting from a two-month-long “circuit breaker” on June 1, authorities said Singapore would re-open in three phases.

Phase 2 started on June 19, and the COVID-19 task force said in October that Phase 3 could begin before the end of the year.

In his speech, Lee cautioned that the “battle is far from won” around the world, with many countries seeing second, third or fourth waves of infections.

Lee said international borders remain largely closed, but as trade and travel are Singapore’s “lifeblood”, its only option is to re-open borders in a controlled and safe way. “As we do so, we will see more imported cases, and there will be some risk of these cases spreading to the community.”

Singapore already had a few of these cases, noted Lee, pointing to an infected airport employee who likely came into contact with passengers with COVID-19, as well as a marine worker who picked up the virus after boarding ships for repair and resupply. “This is a calculated risk we have to accept but the government will take every precaution, and do our best to prevent imported cases from triggering a new outbreak.”

Singapore’s situation, however, has improved since March and April when there were more than 1,000 coronavirus cases a day. Now on most days, there are no locally transmitted cases, he said.

Bringing the pandemic under control took “a tremendous effort and some good luck”, said Lee, adding that defences against COVID-19 are now stronger. “I am grateful that Singaporeans complied with the spirit, and not just the letter of the rules. We stayed united, kept up our guard, and did not allow ourselves to become complacent,” he said.