Starting Tuesday, April 7, Singapore will lock down all non-essential businesses for at least one month, announced the city-state’s prime minister Lee Hsien Loong on Friday afternoon, in response to the total number of coronavirus cases in the country crossing the 1,000-mark.
Essential services that will remain open include food establishments, wet markets and supermarkets, clinics and hospitals, utilities, transport, and banking establishments. Also allowed to remain open are businesses in key economic sectors, including those part of a global supply chain, as long as employees go to work with safe distancing measures in place.
All other work premises must close, stated Lee, who encouraged staff to work from home and telecommute wherever possible.
The government will “make arrangements to look after” foreign workers who will not be able to work, he added.
Further support for businesses and households will be announced on Monday at a parliament session by deputy prime minister Heng Swee Kiat, including a new legislation that mandates landlords pass on property tax rebates in full to tenants, as well as relief from certain contractual obligations for businesses and individuals.
“Looking at the trend, unless we take further steps, things will gradually get worse or another big cluster will push things over the edge. To pre-empt escalating infections, we will impose significantly stricter measures to help reduce risk of a big outbreak occurring, and also help to gradually bring our numbers down,” explained Lee.
He shared that these stricter measures have been enacted after discussions with Singapore’s multi-ministry task force, and may eventually help improve the situation which would lead to the relaxing of some measures.
The announcement comes as the number of global coronavirus cases worldwide topped one million yesterday. In Singapore, the number hit 1,049 this week, including 49 new cases yesterday and a fifth death of an 89-year-old woman today with no history of travel to affected countries or regions.
“We used to see fewer than 10 new cases a day, but in the past two weeks, we have had more than 15 new cases daily. These were initially imported from overseas – mostly returning Singaporeans – but in the last week, we began to have more (locally transmitted) cases. Despite good contact tracing, nearly half of these came from places we don’t know where or from whom. This suggests there are more people out there who are infected but have not been identified, passing the virus unknowingly to others.”
Lee assured: “The next few weeks will be pivotal. Even with these stricter measures in place, the number of cases will quite likely go up in the next few days. Within a few weeks, we should be able to bring the numbers under control and bring numbers down to a more sustainable situation.”