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Transcript of Minister Lawrence Wong's Opening Remarks at The Multi-Ministry Taskforce Press Conference on 18 June 2021

18 Jun 2021
English remarks:

Good afternoon.

Regrettably, we are unable to proceed with our second stage of reopening. In light of the latest outbreaks and the big cluster that we have discovered in Bukit Merah, we now have to adjust our plans.

Why are we doing this? Perhaps I can just give some perspectives. We've received a whole range of feedback and views about this matter. And generally, I would say there are two schools of thought. One school of thought is that we should push back the reopening to a much later date until we have cases that are near zero consistently for many days. But this is, in fact, very hard to achieve, and may not even be possible to do so, given how transmissible the Delta variant is. And if we were to take this approach, it will mean we have restrictive measures in place for many months, which will cause many businesses to fold. So that's not a very realistic option.

Another school of thought is that, well, you know you say that this is going to be endemic, and our infection rates in Singapore are very low compared to many other places which have already opened up more aggressively. And, you know, on top of that we already have vaccines in place now. So, let's just proceed as planned to continue to ease up and relax measures, and not overreact to each and every new cluster.

Now, I can understand the sentiments behind this, and indeed we do want to proceed with our reopening more confidently. But our vaccination rates currently are still not high enough to provide sufficient protection.

When it comes to vaccination, you have to look both at the first dose which indicates the coverage of protection, as well as the second dose, which confers full protection. And as you heard from Minister Ong Ye Kung just now, our rates are 49% for first doses and 35% for full vaccination, and that's not high enough. Our vaccine coverage for the vulnerable groups, the elderly, it's not bad. It's certainly above 60%, but still not high enough, especially for those who are above 70 years old. We would like it to be much higher in order to protect our vulnerable groups.

So, if we were to ease our restrictions too early, big clusters can easily break out and overwhelm us, and result in higher hospitalization and even mortality for the vulnerable groups. That's exactly what we are worried about. And you can see this happening in other places too. For example, in the UK, they too have decided to push back their reopening timelines precisely for the same concerns. And that's why we are not adopting either approach. Instead, we are treading a very careful path forward based on a rigorous assessment of our current situation. And hence, we have decided to break up the reopening into two steps. And our main objective with this staged reopening is to buy time so that we can continue to speed up our vaccination program.

What are the two stages of our reopening? The first stage will proceed on 21st of June. We will allow all the higher risk activities that have mask-off, like F&B dining, and gyms and fitness centres. We will allow all of that to resume, but with the additional restriction that group sizes in these settings have to be limited to two persons.

On top of that, we will put in place strict safe management measures across these higher risk settings. For example, when it comes to F&B establishments, no recorded music will be allowed. There will be restrictions on video screening, TV screening, and live entertainment in F&B outlets. The one metre safe distancing rule has to be strictly complied with. So, it's not one metre between tables, but one metre between groups of diners. And that has to be strictly complied with. All patrons must keep their mask on at all times except when eating or drinking. We will have enforcement officers going around to check, and we'll take strict enforcement actions against any establishment that breaches these rules because they will really put everyone at risk.

In addition, as we had announced before, we will be putting in place a system of regular testing for workers in these higher risk settings using the rapid antigen test kits. Most of such testing can be done through a system of self-swabs by the employees themselves, supervised by their employers. So, we will be training supervisors to do this we will have programs ready to train supervisors how to go about setting up this system in their respective organizations. The test kits will be made available for this purpose.

There will be a few small businesses who may not be able to organize these self-swabs because they do not have the scale or the capabilities to do so. So, we will set up quick test centres for them so that people can go there and get themselves tested too. But for the most part, we would envisage that most of the testing will be done through self-swabs, but supervised by employers, and we will get this going from next week onwards and scale up progressively. So that is the first step, the first stage of reopening.

The second stage will happen around mid-July. By then, we expect that the system of regular testing will be in place across these higher risk settings. We expect that our vaccination rates will be higher, and then, we can allow group sizes to increase to five persons. With this phased approach, we recognise that some businesses will be impacted and therefore, the Ministry of Finance will continue to extend the support measures. We will extend the support measures for the Job Support Scheme, and for hawkers who are self-employed.  We will extend the subsidies for fees for table cleaning and centralised dishwashing services, as well as provide rental waivers. For workers who remain affected by the tightened measures, we will also extend the COVID-19 Recovery Temporary Grant till 31st of July, till the end of July. Existing recipients of this grant who continue to require assistance can apply for a second tranche of the CRG-T Support Grant in July, and the Ministry of Social and Family Development will provide more details on how to go about doing this.

As we resume activities from 21st of June onwards, cases are bound to go up. We have to expect that and be mentally prepared for this. We will do our best to prevent large clusters from arising. We have already implemented more extensive quarantine operations, but there is a wider ring of people who are not close contacts, but may have some possible exposures to the virus. For example, you are in the restaurant, but not seated together, perhaps a different table, but you are in this restaurant at the same time, or perhaps in a shopping mall at the same time when there are infected cases breaking out. So, we will implement a new testing process for wider ring fencing and to help curb the spread of the virus. In particular, we will send Health Alert SMSes to those individuals who are exposed, and they will be required to undergo mandatory testing at designated centres, so it is not just up to you -- if you are worried, you come forward, but we will send you an alert. And it will be required for you to undergo a mandatory test at the testing centres.

At the centres, we will give you DIY test kits to self-administer at home over subsequent days because we know there is an incubation period, so one test is not sufficient. So, after getting tested at the centre, you will get DIY test kits, and you can continue to self-administer the swabs at home for subsequent days to confirm that you are not infected. This will be a new process that we are putting in place to help curb the spread of any new cases that may break out, and we call on everyone in Singapore to do your part to help us control the infection and prevent large clusters from breaking out.

Finally, I want to add to the comments made by my colleagues earlier and reassure everyone that we will continue to synchronise our reopening with our vaccination plans. We are doing everything we can to ramp up vaccination, as you heard from Minister Ong just now, and we will be able to offer everyone a vaccination slot soon. So please, when it comes to your turn, sign up, get yourself jabbed, so that we can achieve high vaccine coverage and protection levels. Then, we can all look forward to reopening safely and resuming our normal lives. Let me just say a few words in Mandarin to wrap up.

Chinese remarks:


上星期,我们宣布原本将在 6 月 21 日开始第二阶段的解封,但由于在红山出现大型的 感染群,我们必须调整这个计划。


所以,从 6 月 21 日起,需要脱下口罩的活动,如堂食、健身房运动等可以恢复,但安 全起见,每组人数将限制在两人。这些都是风险比较高的活动,所以在这些场所的员 工也将定期接受冠病检测。

接下来,如果情况没有恶化,从 7 月中开始,每组人数限制将可以提高到 5 人。




政府管理的小贩中心的餐桌清洁和洗碗费用的补贴也将延长。我们也将继续免除小贩 摊 的租金。

另外,我们也将把冠病疫情复苏临时补贴(COVID-19 Recovery Grant - Temporary)延 长到 7 月 31 日。


这是一段艰难的时期,但让我们继续上下一心,对抗疫情。政府将继续加强检测、追 踪、施打疫苗的工作,也请大家继续遵守安全管理措施,并在轮到你的时候,接种疫苗。