'The time is not yet' to increase dine-in limit to 5: Ong Ye Kung

·Assistant News Editor
·3 min read
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung (SCREENGRAB: Gov.sg YouTube channel)

SINGAPORE — It is not yet time to loosen dining restrictions to allow groups of up to five to dine-in at food and beverage (F&B) establishments, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung in Parliament on Monday (1 November).

"We wish to get there. We were there before, we were even at eight at one point," said Ong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force on COVID-19. 'It is important to the F&B industry, it's important to Singaporeans, it's important for families to get together. But I think the time is not yet. I think we will get there, but the time is not yet."

Ong was responding to a supplementary question from Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh, following a ministerial statement from Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary on intensive care unit (ICU) and hospital capacity. 

Dr Puthucheary revealed that while Singapore has the resources to boost ICU capacity, it lacks the personnel to provide continued effective care for ICU patients if it does so. This has been compounded by a higher rate of resignations: in the first half of 2021, 1,500 healthcare workers resigned, compared to about 2,000 annually before the pandemic.

Prevailing COVID rules restrict dining at eateries to groups of up to two until 21 November, with the rules set to be reviewed before then. Singh had alluded to significant public "pushback" on this, noting, "So there's a view that can't quite connect why this cannot be opened up in view of the number of vaccinated individuals who actually are not imposing on the ICU capacity as much as non-vaccinated individuals."

Ong acknowledged the perennial question: why is Singapore opening up Vaccinated Travel Lanes with multiple countries, but remains unwilling to loosen dining restrictions? He noted that at the start of the pandemic, the city-state had very low infections compared to the rest of the world. To open up borders at that time would have meant "opening up the floodgates". 

Today, infection rates in Singapore are similar to that of other countries, while the latter may even have lower rates given that many countries went through "huge waves" of infection. Furthermore, travel is limited to vaccinated individuals, while travellers are subject to tests at the border.

Noting that events such as weddings allow individuals to sit in groups of five with pre-event testing, Ong added, "So I think this also presents possibilities for the MTF to think about, whether through tests, through vaccination, we can allow gatherings that is a bit more free and these are all possibilities that we continue to think about."

Weekly infection growth rate indicator

Last month, Finance Minister and MTF co-chair Lawrence Wong said five members from the same households may be allowed to dine in together once the weekly infection growth rate – the ratio of community cases in the past week over the week before – goes below 1. As of Sunday evening, it stands at 1.12.

Earlier in October, Wong had also said that it was “too risky” for five members of the same household to sit together in a restaurant.

Last week, fierce criticism ensued when it was revealed that delegates at this month's Bloomberg New Economy Forum (NEF) will be allowed to dine together in groups of up to five at NEF venues and other designated restaurants

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