Singapore tightens coronavirus curbs to buy time to boost vaccinations

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People who had visited a mall which became a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cluster, queue up for their swab tests in Singapore May 20, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su/File Photo

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SINGAPORE, July 20 (Reuters) - Singapore will halt restaurant dining and ban gatherings of more than two people for one month from Thursday, the health ministry said, as a further rise in coronavirus cases deals a blow to the country's reopening plans.

The restrictions will be reviewed in two weeks as the country nears its milestone of vaccinating two-thirds of its population by Aug. 9.

New coronavirus cases almost doubled on Monday from the previous day and Ong Ye Kung, the health minister, said 184 new infections were expected to be confirmed on Tuesday.

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He said vaccinations had been completed for half the city-state's population.

The government is pushing to boost take-up rates among the elderly, where 30% remain unvaccinated.

Singapore's daily new case numbers are only a fraction of those reported elsewhere in Southeast Asian, but the tightening of measures just days after easing them is a setback for an Asian business hub eager to move on from the pandemic.

"We have to make this pre-emptive tightening so that we can cut back on our overall activity levels and slow down the transmission," said Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the coronavirus taskforce.

"The objective now is to buy us time so that we can vaccinate more people, especially our seniors."

Once the situation stabilises, Singapore will have more lenient measures for those vaccinated, Wong said.

Singapore has ramped up testing after clusters of infections at karaoke KTV bars and a fishery port.

The KTV cluster has caused public anger and questions over policing of the lounges notorious for facilitating prostitution and gambling. They were temporarily allowed to operate as restaurants.

The government has said enforcement agencies were stretched.

Singapore has reported more than 63,000 coronavirus infections overall, the bulk of those linked to outbreaks in migrant workers dormitories last year.

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Reporting by Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Martin Petty

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