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Singapore lifts masks mandate in indoor and public places


SINGAPORE, 24 August – Singapore will from Monday lift its indoor mask mandate for most spaces, easing one of the country’s few remaining pandemic restrictions as it forges ahead with a policy of living with Covid-19.

Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-heads a government virus task force, said on Wednesday that indoor mask-wearing would be optional for most spaces, except for in healthcare settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes, and on public transport.

Mask-wearing on private transport, including school buses and taxis, would be optional, he said. Currently, residents are only allowed to remove their masks outdoors.

The move will make Singapore one of the first countries in Asia to ease indoor mask-wearing.

Even so, Wong, who is also finance minister, urged the elderly and those who are immunocompromised to continue wearing masks in crowded indoor settings to reduce their risk of catching the virus.

Also speaking to reporters at the first in-person press conference in more than two years, health minister Ong Ye Kung mapped out Singapore’s plans to deal with future Covid-19 waves, pointing to how countries were expecting a surge in cases towards the end of the year. This included ramping up hospital capacity and improving vaccination coverage.

While about 70 per cent of Singapore’s population has caught Covid-19, Ong noted that the immunity gained from a past infection would wane over time.

“Vaccination continues to be very effective in protecting against severe disease and hospitalisation,” he said.

A government committee that studies vaccinations now recommends people aged 60 or older should receive a second Covid-19 booster jab. Children aged 5 to 11 are recommended to receive one booster dose, five months after their second shot.

About 79 per cent of Singapore’s 5.45 million population has taken their first booster shot.

Officials also announced plans to further relax Singapore’s border rules for travellers who are not fully vaccinated.

Starting on Monday, non-fully vaccinated travellers would no longer need to serve a seven-day isolation period upon arrival, but they would still be required to test negative two days before arriving in Singapore.

Those who are vaccinated are currently allowed to enter Singapore without testing or quarantine.

Wong, who is also the city state’s prime minister-in-waiting, said the relaxation of measures was a “significant milestone” in Singapore’s journey towards living with the virus but cautioned that the pandemic was not over.

“We are in a much better position, but we certainly do not feel that it is appropriate for us to throw caution to the wind and remove all our barriers,” he said.

“In fact … [we] are already putting in place plans in preparation and anticipation that there will be a new wave coming, perhaps in winter. We don’t know what that wave will look like but we have to be ready for all contingencies.” — SCMP


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