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Singapore starts to ease office restraints

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Spectators gather to photograph Apple Inc.'s iconic Marina Bay Sands store on its opening day in Singapore, on Sept. 10, 2020. — BRYAN VAN DER BEEK/BLOOMBERG

SINGAPORE will allow more people to return to offices and trial a new business travel pass for senior executives as the city moves to re-open more of its economy amid ebbing virus cases.

Though working from home remains the default, the updated requirements allow office staff to return up to half their working time, with no more than half of such employees at the workplace at any point in time, the health ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

Authorities said the updated measures were “carefully considered to balance the concerns of employers regarding the impact of extended periods of working-from-home on productivity and workplace relations, while creating safe workplaces for employees,” it said. The updated measures will take effect from Sept. 28.

With the business passes, which will be strictly limited at first, they will be for executives with regional or international responsibilities who need to travel regularly, the ministry said. Travelers on this pass will have the option of doing a virus test instead of stay-home notice upon return to Singapore, and self-isolate until the test results are out.

These announcements come as countries worldwide grapple with how to reopen their economies and borders safely amid the pandemic. In the U.K., banks from Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. to JPMorgan Chase & Co. this week halted plans to return workers in London after the government urged people to work from home to stem a surge in virus cases.

In Singapore, the number of daily cases has dropped significantly in recent months following partial lockdown measures imposed in April. Since then, cases have been kept at low levels through mandatory mask-wearing and other social distancing measures as the economy largely re-opened in June. The country has also ramped up containment strategies, including contact-tracing and targeted testing.

Here are more details of the updated measures as well as comments from the briefing:

• Work-related events within the workplace premises like conferences, seminars and corporate retreats will also be allowed to resume, for up to 50 people

• Authorities will consider allowing the resumption of work-related events at external venues at a later date

• Companies must not organize or encourage larger scale social gatherings within or outside the workplace such as parties, celebrations, team bonding activities, dinner-and-dance, and gala dinners

• Employers must continue to ensure clear physical spacing of at least one meter and demarcate safe physical distances

• Cinemas will be allowed to expand their capacities from Oct. 1

• All religious organizations will be allowed to conduct congregational and other worship services for up to 100 persons from Oct. 3. A pilot to increase worship limits up to 250 persons is also being considered, with more details to come

• Singapore will expand the current pilot for wedding receptions and marriage solemnizations to allow up to 100 attendees from Oct. 3

• Government is adjusting the legal cut-off age for children to wear masks to 6 years old and above, up from the current 2 years old and above.

• Results of the community testing operations indicate very low prevalence rates in the community: health ministry

• The end of the pandemic is still “some way” off: health minister Gan Kim Yong

“If all goes well, if we can continue to maintain this level of compliance and we can continue to control the infection well, then we will be able to continue with this path of resuming and opening up our economy and our society,” Lawrence Wong, the education minister who is the co-chairman of the virus task force, said during the briefing.

Mr. Wong said the government is working on the road map to phase three, the so-called stage where limited-sized social, cultural, religious and business gatherings or events would resume until a vaccine is developed. These plans could be shared in a few weeks, he said.

As of Wednesday, the city-state recorded 12 new infections, down from more than a thousand cases a day at the height of the outbreak.  Of the more than 57,000 known cases of the virus in Singapore since the pandemic began, nearly 95% are among migrant workers living in dormitories.

In these dormitories, the government announced earlier on Wednesday it would pilot additional testing there, effectively increasing the frequency to a seven-day cycle from 14 days. This is “to understand how more frequent testing will enable earlier detection of asymptomatic cases among migrant workers,” according to a joint government press release.

Wong said at the briefing that authorities will need a few rounds of regular testing at the dormitories before the country can continue to see a decline in cases there. Even though those facilities were declared clear of the virus last month, clusters have persisted. — Bloomberg

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