SINGAPORE – The prime minister of Singapore on Thursday said the country would lift many of its coronavirus restrictions, calling it “a crucial step forward towards living with Covid-19”.
In a speech to the nation, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the recent spike in cases caused by a highly transmissible omicron subvariant is now “well under control,” citing Singapore’s high vaccination rate as one reason for the easing. About 95 percent of those eligible are fully vaccinated, according to the country’s Health Ministry.
Singapore, which has a population of around 5.7 million, has an average of about 9,800 cases a day, according to Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering, but relatively few cases have been severe enough to require oxygen or critical care. Mr Lee said cases have been declining over the past two weeks.
The easing of restrictions will begin on Tuesday. Masks are optional outdoors and 10 people are allowed to dine together, five or more.
From April 1, all vaccinated travelers and children under the age of 12 can enter Singapore with just one pre-departure test. Previously, travelers could only take certain flights to enter Singapore with quarantine and had to take a rapid antigen test within 24 hours of arrival.
Mr Lee said travel would be “almost like it was before Covid-19”. The Government said it will monitor the local and global Covid situation and will consider lifting the pre-departure testing requirement in the coming weeks.
“These domestic and cross-border changes represent a major step toward living with Covid-19,” said Mr. Lee. “But they stall on the verge of full opening. We remain vigilant as Covid-19 could bring more surprises.”
The prime minister said his government is sticking to its careful strategy “which has served us well over the last two years”. He noted that other countries had adopted a “freedom day” approach and “declared the pandemic over and eased all restrictions immediately.” (England lifted almost all of its coronavirus restrictions in July, in what some news media dubbed “Freedom Day.”)
“Now they’re watching with concern as their infection and mortality numbers rise rapidly again,” Mr. Lee said.
People without a mask would still have to keep a “safe” distance of one meter from each other, he said.
From Tuesday, people will no longer have to present proof of vaccination when entering restaurants, but will be subject to random checks. Live performances can resume and alcohol can be sold again after 10:30pm
“After this important step, we will wait a while for the situation to stabilize,” Mr. Lee said. “If all goes well, we will ease further.”