Singapore to Close Schools, Most Workplaces With Rising Virus Cases

Philip J. Heijmans and Faris Mokhtar
Singapore to Close Schools, Most Workplaces With Rising Virus Cases

(Bloomberg) --

Singapore will shutter schools and most workplaces as the city-state unveiled a raft of stricter measures to slow the spread of coronavirus, shifting away from an approach crafted to limit interruptions to daily life and commerce.

Most workplaces, except for essential services and key economic sectors, will close starting on Tuesday, while the city-state will move to full home-based learning in its schools from Wednesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in an address to the nation Friday afternoon. The government will also unveil additional stimulus measures to boost the economy early next week.

The action comes as confirmed cases of local transmission and unlinked infections in the country have risen in recent weeks. “We have decided that instead of tightening incrementally over the next few weeks, we should make a decisive move now, to preempt escalating infections,” said Lee.

Singapore’s tougher moves signal its current approach -- relying on contact tracing, strict containment measures such as shutting bars, and quarantine -- is no longer tenable. While more than 160 countries have already shut schools, the city-state was one of a handful that did not do so, citing early research that children are not as affected as adults.

Here are other details of the stricter measures:

Casinos, theme parks to close starting next week.Food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services will remain open.From April 7, all restaurants, hawker centers, coffee shops, food courts and other food-and-beverage outlets will remain open only for takeaway or delivery.Other economic sectors “that are strategic, or form part of a global supply chain” will not be closed.All preschool and student care centers will be closed, but will provide limited services for children of parents who have to continue working and are unable to make alternative arrangements.Government will stop discouraging the general public from wearing face masks in public, and will distribute reusable masks from April 5.

The government also plans on Monday to announce more support aimed at businesses and households. Singapore delivered a second stimulus package worth S$48 billion ($33.4 billion) last week to fight the outbreak, drawing on national reserves for the first time since the global financial crisis to support an economy heading for recession.

“Even if more assistance measures are announced on Monday, they are unlikely to offset the economic ramifications of what is akin to an economic immobilization,” Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. in Singapore, said in an email. Retail sales plunged 8.6% in February from the same time last year, marking the worst decrease since June and the 13th consecutive decline.

‘Very Worrying’ Trends

Lee said the spirit of these measures is to get people to minimize physical contact. “If we don’t go out, if we avoid contact with others, then the virus won’t be able to spread. It is as simple as that,” he said.

Lawrence Wong, minister for national development who co-chairs a task force to fight the virus, said in a press conference the increase in the number of local and unlinked coronavirus cases are “very, very worrying trends.”

The latest set of moves will continue for at least a month, Wong said, adding there’s a chance the government can roll back the measures by the end of the month if the guidelines are upheld. He said the key objective is to reduce the spread of the virus, particularly cutting the number of unlinked cases.

“If there’s poor compliance, poor implementation, then we have to be prepared for these measures to continue,” Wong said. “Let’s hunker down and beat the virus together.”

Singapore announced Friday a fifth person has died due to complications from the coronavirus. Cases have risen more sharply in March compared to earlier months, and now total more than 1,000.

Health Minister Gan said the city-state has yet to reach its highest level of alert, so-called Dorscon Red, and would press on with contact-tracing and widespread efforts to contain the disease. “We’re not yet in Dorscon Red, and we’re quite a distance from Dorscon Red,” he said.

(Updates to add detail on prior approach in first, fourth paragraphs)

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