SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed the nation on Friday (Apr 3), giving an update on the COVID-19 situation in Singapore and announcing enhanced measures to limit the spread of the disease.

This is the Prime Minister’s full address in English: 

My fellow Singaporeans

Good evening

I last spoke to you on COVID-19 three weeks ago

Since then, the number of new cases daily has begun to rise

We used to see fewer than 10 new cases a day

But in the last two weeks, despite our best efforts, we have routinely had more than 50 new cases daily

Initially, many of the new cases were imported from overseas, mostly returning Singaporeans

Then last week, we began to have more local cases

Furthermore, despite our good contact tracing, for nearly half of these cases, we do not know where or from whom the person caught the virus

This suggests that there are more people out there who are infected, but who have not been identified.

And they may be passing the virus unknowingly to others

In the last few days, we have also discovered several clusters at foreign worker dormitories, and one at a nursing home

These are very worrying, because large numbers of people live together in dormitories and nursing homes

A single case can quickly lead to a large cluster

Furthermore, nursing home patients are mostly old and frail, and very vulnerable to the virus

As the situation developed over the past weeks, we have tightened our safe-distancing measures progressively

Singaporeans have responded well, calmly and responsibly, and made adjustments in their daily lives

By working together, we have kept the outbreak under control

But looking at the trend, I am worried that unless we take further steps, things will gradually get worse, or another big cluster may push things over the edge

I discussed this with the Multi-Ministry Task Force (MTF)

We have decided that instead of tightening incrementally over the next few weeks, we should make a decisive move now, to pre-empt escalating infections

We will therefore impose significantly stricter measures. This is like a circuit breaker

It will help reduce the risk of a big outbreak occurring

And it should also help to gradually bring our numbers down

This in turn will then allow us to relax some of the measures

This circuit breaker will apply for one month, in the first instance

The Task Force is holding a Press Conference immediately after I finish speaking to you, to explain the details

But let me give you the key points

First, we will close most workplaces, except for essential services and key economic sectors

Food establishments, markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services will remain open. They are essential services

We also should not disrupt economic sectors that are strategic, or form part of a global supply chain

People working in these industries can continue to go to work, with safe-distancing measures in place

But most other work premises must close

If the person can work from home, he should do so

But others will not be able to, including foreign workers on construction sites and in shipyards

These workers live in dormitories, and we will make arrangements to look after them

This will take effect from next Tuesday

We have to ensure that most of our workforce stays at home and limit their physical interaction to as few people as possible

Second, we will also move to full home-based learning in our schools and institutes of higher learning (IHLs)

We started with one day of home-based learning this week

This has gone smoothly, with teething issues being resolved

MOE will work with the schools to implement full home-based learning starting next Wednesday

All preschool and student care centres will also be closed, but will provide limited services for children of parents who have to continue working and are unable to make alternative care arrangements

Third, we will tighten our restrictions on movements and gatherings of people

It boils down to three things

First, stay at home, as much as possible

Second, avoid socialising with others beyond your own household

Gatherings should be confined to your household

Avoid visiting even your extended families who are not staying with you, especially if they are elderly or vulnerable

Third, go out only to do essential things

For work, if you are in essential services or key economic sectors

To buy food at markets, or to take out from restaurants and hawker centres

Or to exercise in the neighbourhood park, keeping a safe distance from others

The spirit of these measures is to get all of us to minimise physical contact

If we don’t go out, if we avoid contact with others, then the virus won’t be able to spread

It is as simple as that

I know this is very hard to do

As a practical matter, in places like hawker centres and wet markets, it is difficult to practise safe-distancing, especially on the weekends when it is crowded

It will help if we all adjust our habits

For example, do our marketing on weekdays instead of weekends to avoid the crowd

We will also deploy more Safe-Distancing Ambassadors to encourage people more firmly not to crowd together, so please cooperate with them

Safe distancing is also hard for a psychological and emotional reason: it goes very much against our human instincts

It is in our nature to want to socialise, to be close to those we are talking to, to take comfort in the warmth and company of friends and family

I fully understand this

But I hope you will also understand why we all have to take social distancing extremely seriously in this period

This is the only effective way to slow the transmission of the virus, so that we gradually bring our numbers down

It is also the best way to keep our families safe, and particularly to protect our seniors from getting ill

So please bear with the painful adjustments that we have make

Each and every one of us can, and must do our part, to keep everyone in Singapore safe from COVID-19

I decided to speak to you directly today to explain why we need to make this major move

But also to reassure you that things will be alright

Essential services will continue running so that all of us can cope with this new situation, as we hunker down to fight this virus

We have enough food supplies to last us through this period and beyond

You can still shop at the supermarket or wet market

And you need not rush to stock up for weeks at a time

You can still buy food from your favourite hawker centres or coffee shop

Though you will have to take out and eat at home with your own family

Rather than hang out and eat outside with your friends

I know these measures will impact our workers and businesses severely

This is already a very difficult time for them

We will help them come through this

On Monday in Parliament, DPM Heng will announce additional support for households and businesses, over and above what was provided in the two earlier Budgets

We will also legislate to require landlords to pass on property tax rebates fully to their tenants

And pass new temporary legislation to let businesses and individuals defer certain contractual obligations for a period, such as paying rent, repaying loans, or completing work

Besides implementing this circuit breaker, we also are rethinking our advice on face masks

Up to now, the Government has advised the general public that you only need to wear a mask if you are not feeling well, and this is to protect others from your germs

This was based on scientific advice and guidelines from the WHO

We also did not have community spread in Singapore then, so it was very unlikely for you to run into anyone with COVID-19 on the street, much less be infected by them

Nevertheless, the Government gave each household four surgical masks, to use in case you got sick, and to give people peace of mind

Now, the situation is changing

We now think there are some cases out there in the community going undetected, though probably still not that many

We also now have evidence that an infected person can show no symptoms, and yet still pass on the virus to others

This is why the WHO is reviewing the issue of face masks, and so is the US CDC

Therefore we will no longer discourage people from wearing masks

Wearing a mask may help to protect others, in case you have the virus but don’t know it. This is so that you keep your droplets to yourself

It can also protect yourself a little better, especially if you are elderly, or vulnerable because of pre-existing conditions

We still want to conserve surgical masks for the people who really need them – healthcare workers in clinics and hospitals

For everyone else, in a community setting, alternatives like reusable masks will give some added protection

So from this Sunday, the Government will distribute reusable masks to all households

Meanwhile, many community groups have been making and distributing reusable masks for the elderly and vulnerable. I applaud these efforts. They show our community spirit and care

But remember, mask or no mask, you still need to wash your hands, and keep a safe distance away from other people

The next few weeks will be pivotal

Even after these stepped-up measures, the number of cases will quite likely still go up in the next few days

They can be cases who have already been infected earlier

Except they have not yet shown symptoms, or gone to see their doctor

But if we keep our efforts up, within a few weeks we should be able to bring the numbers down, and get into a more sustainable position

We will keep on doing our utmost to protect every Singaporean from COVID-19

Many people have been working tirelessly for the past two months

Our nurses and doctors, our contact tracers and healthcare staff

We thank them all for their efforts and sacrifices

Now we are all enlisted to join them on the frontline

It will be a long fight

But if any country can see this through, it is Singapore

We have the resources. We have the determination. We are united

By helping one another through this, we will prevail, and emerge stronger

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