Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Singapore eases Covid restrictions in a bid to boost economy

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Singapore has eased social restrictions as authorities focus on reviving the economy to ensure the island maintains its status as a global hub.

On Monday, the government raised the limit on the number of people allowed to meet or be invited to a household from five to eight, and increased the maximum capacity of shopping malls, attractions and places of worship.

As much of Europe and North America implement more restrictive policies to contain the spread of Covid-19, the city-state has brought the virus under control through strict distancing, aggressive testing and strict quarantines.

Singapore has been so successful in containing the pandemic that the World Economic Forum has announced move its annual meeting from Switzerland to the Asian island in 2021 due to the persistent risk of coronavirus in Europe.

But controlling the health crisis has come at an economic cost, plunging Singapore in recession.

Chua Hak Bin, senior economist at Maybank, said easing restrictions would boost domestic spending, but the economic impact would be “only gradually positive” until border controls are significantly relaxed.

“We believe this can only happen in the fourth quarter of 2021, when vaccines are widely available in Singapore and other major markets, including our neighbors, and herd immunity is achieved,” added Mr. Chua.

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this month that trade and travel were the “cornerstone” of the country and that “the longer our own borders remain closed to travelers, the greater the risk of permanently losing our place as an international hub, which harms our means of subsistence.”

Maybank forecast that Singapore’s real GDP will grow 4.5% in 2021 and 3% in 2022 after declining 5.7% in 2020.

The first shipments of the BioNTech / Pfizer vaccine arrived this month in Singapore, which signed advance purchase agreements with Moderna and Sinovac. Singapore will start immunizing healthcare workers on Wednesday, with the elderly and those with underlying health conditions to be prioritized as well.

The Vortex rain waterfall at the shopping center at Jewel Changi Airport in Singapore. Singapore’s prime minister called travel and trade the island’s “ vitality ” © Wallace Woon / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock

Modular cold rooms in Singapore whose temperature can be controlled to store coronavirus vaccines © Reuters

Singapore brought the virus under control after epidemic in the dormitories of migrant workers triggered a wave of infections. The number of new locally transmitted cases reported daily has remained single-digit or zero since the end of September, with Singapore reporting no local infections for a record 15 days last month.

There are only 37 patients with Covid-19 in Singaporean hospitals, none of whom are in intensive care units. The island nation has recorded just 29 deaths since the start of the pandemic.

This success in the fight against the virus has, however, meant the imposition of severe quarantines on migrant workers who live in tight dormitories. Even under the latest easing of measures, workers will face more restrictions than the rest of the population.

Workers can leave dormitories only to be transported to and from their place of work or can book an “exit pass” to visit “recreation centers” including barbers and mini markets for up to three hours the weekly day of rest.

More than 300,000 workers live in facilities where up to 20 people can sleep on bunk beds in a single room.

Migrant workers, many of whom are from India, Bangladesh and China, account for more than 90% of reported Covid-19 cases in Singapore.

“It came at a huge price for their freedom,” said Alex Au, vice president of Transient Workers Count Too, a non-governmental organization. “They were effectively locked up from April to the end of August or September. It was the equivalent of imprisonment without trial. “

“They always subject them to extreme restrictions which [we] looks like it’s completely disproportionate to the risk and extremely violent of their human rights to freedom, ”Mr. Au added.

Tan See Leng, second minister of manpower, admitted in a Facebook post that “the measures have been tough on our migrant workers”.

But he added that Singapore was “cautiously easing restrictions” where possible. “The risk of the re-emergence of Covid-19 in our dormitories of migrant workers is real and significant.”

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