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15th May 2022

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Singapore reimposes tough distancing rules after Covid cases rise

Singapore has reimposed strict social-distancing measures, banning in-person restaurant dining and limiting social gatherings to two people following a spate of new Covid-19 cases.

The restrictions will take effect on Sunday, just weeks before the country was set to host the Shangri-La Dialogue, a high-profile annual defence summit that would have been the first big international event in Singapore since the start of the pandemic last year.

The measures are also expected to delay the opening of a travel bubble with Hong Kong that was set to start on May 26, the second time an effort to resume flights between the Asian financial hubs has been delayed.

Singapore has taken the aggressive approach after reporting 71 locally transmitted cases in the past week, 15 of which are not linked.

Officials recorded 24 infections on Thursday, a relatively low level by global standards. But the recent increase in cases and emergence of new clusters follow months of single-digit or no locally transmitted daily infections.

Authorities have also identified a new cluster of 46 cases at Changi airport that could involve the more easily transmissible B. 1.617.2 coronavirus variant that was first discovered in India. A separate cluster at a Singaporean hospital includes this variant.

“We are in a state of heightened alert,” Gan Kim Yong, Singapore’s health minister, said on Friday.

Ong Ye Kung, transport minister, said the rise in cases meant it was “very likely that Singapore will not be able to meet the resumption criteria” for the travel bubble with Hong Kong.

The new measures will be in effect for a month but will be reviewed after two weeks. Outdoor gatherings or household visits will be limited to a maximum of two people and restaurants will only be permitted to offer takeaway or delivery. Working from home will also become the default arrangement.

The Shangri-La Dialogue attracts leading military officials, diplomats and weapons manufacturers and was scheduled to take place in person from June 4. Confirmed attendees include Lloyd Austin, the US secretary of defence.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies think-tank, organiser of the event, said it remained “committed” to holding the conference. “We will rapidly review our existing safe management measures in light of today’s announcements to ensure the highest safety levels for all our participants and the wider community in Singapore,” it added.

The World Economic Forum had also announced that it would hold its annual meeting in Singapore in August rather than the Swiss ski resort of Davos, as the health crisis abated in the Asian city.

The World Economic Forum did not respond to requests for comment.

The new restrictions have disheartened some residents who had enjoyed a semblance of normal life for months. “It’s a good way of having a lockdown without calling it a lockdown,” said a finance executive based in the city.

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2021-05-14 08:03:05

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