Singapore will close schools and most workplaces from next week, keeping only essential services and food establishments open, as authorities say they have lost control of stringent contact tracing that had been celebrated as the global gold standard.
In a televised address, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong admitted that for half of the city’s new cases — rising by the dozens each day — “we don’t know where or from whom this person got the virus.”
“We decided that instead of tightening incrementally over the next few weeks, we should make a decisive move now to preempt escalating infections,” Lee said. “This is like a circuit breaker. It will help reduce the risk of a big outbreak occurring.”
On Wednesday, Singapore reported its highest daily surge of cases, 74, and on Friday confirmed its fifth death, that of a 86-year old Singaporean woman. More than 1,000 cases have been recorded in the Southeast Asian city-state.
Nonessential businesses will shutter for a month from Tuesday, Lee said, and schools will close from April 8, also for a month. Markets and supermarkets, banks, transport, clinics and other essential services will remain open.
A new wave of restrictions and lockdowns has been rolled out across Asia in tandem with a surge in cases. Thailand has imposed a curfew from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m., while Malaysia is under a partial lockdown. The Philippines, too, is under lockdown, and Hong Kong on Thursday announced that bars and nightclubs must shutter.
Singapore’s Lee said his government is also rethinking its advice on surgical masks. Previously, Singapore told people that they did not need to wear masks unless they were unwell, as there was no wide community spread.
“The situation has now changed,” he said. “Therefore we will no longer discourage people from wearing masks.”