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    Singapore Quells Virus ‘Fire,’ Sees Last Phase of Curbs

    Abstract:Singapore is looking to ease up more on pandemic curbs, with the size of social gatherings possibly raised to eight, in a further step toward normalized activity as new daily coronavirus cases dwindle near zero.

      Singapore is looking to ease up more on pandemic curbs, with the size of social gatherings possibly raised to eight, in a further step toward normalized activity as new daily coronavirus cases dwindle near zero.

      Phase Three, which may start by year-end, would allow the following easing of measures, the Ministry of Health said in a release Tuesday, while also outlining a pilot program for on-site testing of attendants at large-scale gatherings:

    •   Group size for gatherings outside the home could rise from five people to eight. Visitors allowed to homes would similarly increase.

    •   Capacity limits at public venues could be increased, and events with multiple zones of 50 persons could be allowed.

    •   Higher-risk settings like bars, karaoke lounges and nightclubs arent expected to reopen as activities pose a higher risk of transmission.

        {9}

    •   The city-state will gradually allow more travel to resume, and is exploring ways to deploy more frequent testing to let more travelers enter Singapore without needing to quarantine.

        {9}

    •   All residents and long-term pass holders traveling overseas can now access government subsidies and insurance coverage for their Covid-related medical bills.

        {11}

    •   From Nov. 1, live performances will be allowed to resume at designated venues, with up to two zones of 50 audience members.

        {11}

      “When can all of these measures take place?” Minister of Education Lawrence Wong said during a briefing by the task-force handling the pandemic crisis. “That is the big question and the answer is that it really depends on all of us.”

      “You can liken the current situation to one where a fire has just been put out, but there are still embers of the fire lying around,” Wong said. “Each time we make further relaxation of any measures, we are simply adding wood to the fire. You dont know when, but at some point in time, the more wood you add, the whole thing will combust yet again.”

      Test Trial

      Singapore will also trial coronavirus tests for participants in larger-scale gatherings using antigen rapid tests, or ARTs, which can return “fairly accurate” results within half an hour. While the cost of ART‘s is not yet finalized, it will be cheaper than conventional PCR tests, Kenneth Mak, the health ministry’s director of medical services, said at the briefing.

      {18}

      Pre-event testing trials starting mid-October at business gatherings, wedding receptions, live performances and sports events will enable the Ministry of Health to identify a model that can be implemented more widely and allow more large-scale events to resume eventually, it said.

      {18}

      While cost of the ARTs has not yet been finalized, it will be considerably cheaper than PCR tests, Mak said.

      Only participants who test negative will be allowed to participate in the event. The Singapore International Energy Week next week will be among the first business events in the pilot. The pilot is part of the governments plans to prepare the country for phase three of its reopening, possibly by year-end.

      Singapore also needs a higher take-up rate of its contact tracing technology, TraceTogether, ahead of entering Phase Three, officials said. The city-state plans to expand its deployment, either through the mobile app or tokens provided by the government, to allow access to venues where people are likely to be in contact for prolonged periods. This will include workplaces, schools, and more public venues like cinemas, live performances, shopping malls, and F&B outlets.

      There are about 2.5 million people, or about 45% of the population, using the program currently, Wong said, adding the percentage has to be at least 70% to be effective.

      Assessing Vaccines

      Singapore is looking to procure various vaccines and is assessing which is most suitable, officials said at the briefing. It may start to see vaccines come into Singapore by the end of the year, but it is more realistic that phase-three trials conclude sometime next year.

      Strict social-distancing measures, including a partial lockdown earlier this year, drove new local daily cases to low single digits or zero in recent weeks. Last week, the city-state recorded no new local cases of Covid-19 for the first time since February.

      That marked a turnaround since the pandemic spread to migrant worker dormitories, contributing to more than a thousand infections a day. With nearly 58,000 confirmed cases, Singapore at one stage had more cases than any other country in Southeast Asia.

      Since then, containment through mandatory mask-wearing, other social-distancing measures and high rates of testing allowed most of the economy to reopen in June. The government has also stepped up contact-tracing and targeted testing, and launched clinical trials of a Covid-19 vaccine.

      While new cases continue to trickle in, theyre mostly imported as Singapore gradually restores travel connections with countries where infection rates remain low. In addition to negotiating business-travel lanes with other Asian countries, the city-state announced last week it would open to Hong Kong as part of a reciprocal travel bubble.

      — With assistance by Faris Mokhtar

      (Updates with TraceTogether usage in 6th paragraph from bottom)

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