Singapore to limit workplace access for unvaccinated people

Passengers from Amsterdam arrive at Changi Airport under Singapore’s expanded Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL) quarantine-free travel scheme, as the city-state opens its borders to more countries amid the pandemic, in Singapore. - Reuters

SINGAPORE (Bloomberg): Singapore is set to restrict access to the workplace for those who are unvaccinated from January unless they test negative daily as part of plans to resume normal activities in the pandemic.

"Unvaccinated employees will not be allowed to return to the workplace unless they have tested negative for Covid-19 before returning to the workplace, and they will need to pay for the costs of these tests,” the health ministry said in a statement on Saturday (Oct 23).

Singapore joins Italy in introducing tough Covid rules for workers by mandating vaccinations for those planning to enter workplaces, while most countries either leave such decisions to companies, or require only selected groups such as healthcare workers and civil servants to be inoculated.

The island currently bars those not inoculated from malls, food centres and local attractions, seen as a way to prompt more people to follow through with vaccinations. In Italy, effective Oct 15, anyone entering a workplace, public or private, must present a digital "Green Pass” or face a fine. The pass can be obtained after vaccination or after testing negative for the virus, and employers will be responsible for checking certificates.

Singapore said only employees who are fully vaccinated, or have recovered from Covid-19 in the past 270 days, can return to the workplace from Jan. 1. Those who haven’t been jabbed will have to test negative on an antigen-rapid test carried out by an approved provider, with such results only valid for 24 hours.

Authorities on Saturday also announced that a resumption of travellers from South Asian nations including India and Bangladesh, and Myanmar from Oct. 26 after recent reviews. Arrivals from the regions will be still subject to strict border measures that are applied to areas deemed as high-risk from the virus.

The city-state also added Sinovac Biotech Ltd.’s shot to its national vaccination programme to allow those who cannot take the mRNA doses to become fully inoculated. The current programme has approved only those from Pfizer Inc. and Moderna Inc.

Sinovac will be used in a three-dose regime, and won’t be eligible for those below 18 years old, the health ministry said.

Earlier this week, the city-state extended tight virus restrictions for about another month as authorities warned the current surge of infections threatened to overwhelm its health-care system.

The surge in infections has thwarted the government’s resolve to ease domestic restrictions, even with 84% of the population fully vaccinated and 98.7% of Covid patients experiencing only mild or no symptoms. The restrictions implemented last month were originally slated to be in place until Oct. 24.

The government will consider easing the current restrictions on three criteria -- the rate of infection increase, the proportion of those falling very ill, and hospital occupancy rates, Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said at a briefing on Saturday.

Wong co-chairs a government taskforce that deals with the virus.

While the number of cases is still increasing at a slower rate, this still puts the health-care system under pressure, Wong said. The weekly infection rate now hovers just above the ratio of above one, from 1.5 when cases were doubling every week, he said.

"If the ratio comes below one, and our hospital and ICU situation remain stable, we will make some calibrated easing in three areas,” Wong said. These are resumption of team sports, more activities in schools and institutions of higher learning, as well as the ability for family members from the same household to dine together in a group of up to five, Wong said. Current restrictions limit the number of diners at two per table.

New infections rose to 3,637 as of noon Friday, from 3,439 the day before, based on the latest data from the health ministry. There are 1,609 patients hospitalised, with 338 cases of them suffering serious illness requiring oxygen supplementation, and 57 in critical condition in the intensive care unit, down from 61 on Oct. 21.

Other highlights:

Singapore will allow fully-vaccinated travellers from 15 more countries to enter without having to quarantine in dedicated facilities. They include Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the United Arab Emirates.

Singapore will allow entry to more domestic workers on condition that they are fully vaccinated before arrival to meet urgent needs of local households.

Travellers from low-risk categories of countries on the so-called vaccinated travel lane programme will require only one polymerase chain reaction test upon arrival only, from Wednesday.

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