21 Apr 2020
Source: Prime Minister's Office
Fellow Singaporeans & Residents
I am speaking to you again to give you an update on the COVID-19 situation We are now two weeks into the circuit breaker. On the whole, people have coped well. Most of us have played our part, staying at home, complying with the restrictions.
We have adjusted to working from home and home-based learning. When outside, we wear masks and keep a safe distance from others. And we have kept to our immediate family units and avoided gatherings with extended family and friends.
The number of new cases in the local community has levelled off, to below 30 new cases daily. This is the result of the circuit breaker, and all of us working together. But as you know, our total case numbers have risen sharply since the last time I spoke to you, just ten days ago. Today alone, we have over 1,100 new cases. Almost all were detected in our migrant worker dormitories, through aggressive testing.
The large number of cases at the dorms is a serious problem. To assess the extent of the spread, we have tested aggressively. Not only those who reported sick, or showed fever or flu symptoms. But also those who were well and asymptomatic.
Almost all the migrant workers infected have only mild symptoms. This is not surprising as they are generally young, and thus much less likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19.
Our doctors, nurses and healthcare personnel are also working hard, triaging them early, and taking good care of them. It is early days yet, but thankfully, so far none of the new cases of migrant workers have needed supplemental oxygen, or intensive care.
We had one earlier case of a Bangladeshi worker, who was in the ICU for two months. This was Case 42. We never gave up on him. Last week, his condition stabilised. He was transferred out of the ICU, to a general ward. It will still take some time for him to fully recover. With some luck, he should be able to see his new-born son soon.
We hope that the situation in the dorms will remain this way: most of the cases being mild, and very few needing oxygen or intensive care. All the major dorms are supported by dedicated teams of doctors and nurses.
To protect the health of our migrant workers, we will step up the medical resources in the dorms. We will deploy more medical personnel, to make sure that anyone with fever or flu symptoms receives appropriate and timely medical treatment. We will house the mild cases either on site, in a separate facility within the dorm, or in community care facilities elsewhere. And we will make sure that those who need more active treatment receive immediate attention, and can be sent promptly to the hospital to help them recover.
We will also pay special attention to the older workers, who are more vulnerable. We are pre-emptively moving them to a separate dorm, where they can be monitored more closely.
To our migrant workers, let me emphasise again: we will care for you, just like we care for Singaporeans. We thank you for your cooperation during this difficult period. We will look after your health, your welfare and your livelihood. We will work with your employers to make sure that you get paid, and you can send money home. And we will help you stay in touch with friends and family.
Ramadan begins in a few days’ time. We will make sure that arrangements are made for our Muslim workers. When Aidilfitri comes next month, we will celebrate with our Muslim friends, just as we celebrated the Indian New Year with our Indian friends last week. This is our duty and responsibility to you, and your families.
Apart from the workers living in dorms, we are monitoring two other groups of migrant workers closely. First, workers who live in shophouses, private housing, or HDB flats. Second, workers in essential services. This group is still working during the circuit breaker, helping to keep Singapore going. Some are cleaning the HDB blocks or hawker centres. Others are maintaining key infrastructure like our broadband networks.
If these workers move in and out of dorms, they become potential channels for cross infection in both directions. Hence we are housing these essential workers separately. We are also testing them to make sure that they are healthy, and to pick up any infections early.
So far, the clusters in the dorms have remained largely contained, and have not spread to the wider community. We will do our utmost to keep it this way.
In the wider community, the circuit breaker is starting to have an effect. The number of community cases has fallen in recent days.
This is the result of all of us coming together, making sacrifices and adhering to the circuit breaker rules. We cannot afford to be complacent. We must press on. To bring down daily infections more sharply, to a single digit, or even zero. And to reduce the number of unlinked cases: those cases where we do not know how they got infected, or from whom.
Because unfortunately that number of unlinked cases has not come down. And this suggests there is a larger, hidden reservoir of COVID-19 cases in the community, that is the source of these unlinked cases, which we have not detected.
I discussed with the Multi-Ministry Task Force (MTF) on the next steps to take. We want to bring down the community numbers decisively. We also want to make sure that if any leakage occurs from the dorms to the wider community, we can detect and contain it early, and prevent new clusters from forming and bursting out of control.
To achieve these two objectives, we must all hunker down and press on with our tight circuit breaker measures. We have called on all Singaporeans to stay home. Go out only for essential needs, like buying food or groceries. Otherwise, please stay at home.
If you do need to go out, then go by yourself, not as a group or as a family. Even when exercising outside, do so only by yourself, and only in your own neighbourhood. Remember: it is not just about adhering to the letter of the law.
The spirit of the guidelines is to reduce movement to a minimum, and to avoid being out and about in the community. This is the way to protect yourself, your family and everyone else.
So I hope everyone can cooperate and do your part. Some hotspots, like some popular wet markets, are still a problem. Large groups of people continue to gather at these places, making it hard to practise safe distancing. These places will impose entry restrictions to thin out the crowds even more.
You can do your part too. Do your marketing on weekdays rather than weekends, and don’t bring your whole family with you for grocery shopping. When you run errands, go out alone, get what you need, and return home straightaway.
We will also close more workplaces, so that only the most essential services will remain open. This will reduce further the number of workers keeping essential services going, and minimise the risks of transmission among the workers. It will mean some degradation of services – for example, less frequent grass cutting in our HDB estates. But I hope we all understand why this has to be done.
We will implement these tighter measures until 4th May. But we will not be able to completely lift the restrictions after that, and go back to business as usual. We will therefore extend the circuit breaker for four more weeks, beyond 4 May. In other words, until 1 June.
Then, provided we have brought the community numbers down, we can make further adjustments and consider easing some measures. This way, we can be more assured that we have made definite progress and consolidated our position.
Many will be disappointed by the extension of the circuit breaker. Especially our businesses and workers, who are hurting greatly. But I hope you understand that this short-term pain is to stamp out the virus, protect the health and safety of our loved ones, and allow us to revive our economy.
The Government will continue to help our businesses and workers cope during the extended circuit breaker period. We will provide the same level of support to our workers and businesses as we are doing now. The ministers will hold a press conference immediately after this to explain the details.