Singapore to ease some coronavirus curbs over next few weeks

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore will start easing coronavirus restrictions over the next few weeks, authorities said on Saturday, as the city-state takes the first tentative steps towards reopening its economy.

FILE PHOTO: People leave a tent used as a thermal scanning station, while buying groceries, amid the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Singapore April 23, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su

Businesses such as home-based enterprises, laundry services and barbershops will be allowed to reopen from May 12. A week later, some students will be allowed to go back to schools in small groups.

Officials say workplaces will be allowed to reopen gradually, taking into account their importance to the economy and supply chains, as well as their ability to minimise the risk of infection.

Singapore is facing the deepest recession in its 55-year history, compounded by so-called “circuit breaker” restrictions aimed at stemming the spread of the novel coronavirus that are due to last until June 1.

“We are preparing for the safe and gradual resumption of economic and community activities after the end of the circuit breaker period on 1 June 2020,” the ministry of health said in a statement.

Singapore has among the highest number of coronavirus infections in Asia, mainly due to outbreaks in cramped migrant-worker dormitories. It has managed to curb the spread of the disease among locals outside the dormitories.

On Saturday, officials confirmed 447 new infections, the smallest daily rise in two weeks, taking the total to 17,548. It also reported the death of a 76-year-old man, taking the total death toll to 17.

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Of the new confirmed cases, 431 involve migrant workers living in dormitories and four are Singaporeans or permanent residents, the health ministry said.

The average daily number of new cases outside the migrant worker dormitories has dropped by more than half to 12 in the past week, from 25 the week before, the ministry said on Friday.

Authorities said SafeEntry, a digital check-in system to log details of visitors and employees, will be deployed extensively across the country to help with contact tracing.

The government said the measures could still be adjusted depending on the situation, and that people should continue to stay at home and not meet in groups.

“Even as we ease and adjust some of these measures, the bottom line is this - this is not the time to slacken and let our guard down,” Singapore minister Lawrence Wong, who co-heads the country’s virus fighting taskforce, told a media briefing.

“We’re not out of the woods,” he said.

Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan in Singapore; Additional reporting by Aakriti Bhalla and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Michael Perry, Stephen Coates and Helen Popper