Singapore on Tuesday unveiled a further easing of Covid-19 social-distancing rules, but officials say a full economic reopening hinges on a substantial increase in usage of the locally developed TraceTogether contact-tracing app as well as digital check-ins at public places. The measures under consideration include bumping up the number of people allowed in a social group from five to eight, and permitting weddings as well as religious and business events to have multiple groups of 50 people who do not intermingle. Currently, weddings and religious events can only have two groups of 50. Hong Kong travel bubble: tourists could spend US$600 on four Covid-19 tests The restrictions could be eased “before the end of the year”, according to Singapore’s Minister for Education Lawrence Wong, who also co-chairs its coronavirus task force, as he announced the road map towards the island nation’s third – and final – phase of reopening. The rate of infection in Singapore has slowed, with the number of new cases reported in the single digits for the past nine days. However, for Phase Three to happen, community transmissions would have to remain low, Wong said, while also hinting that more people needed to get on board with the TraceTogether programme, either through the smartphone app or a token developed by the government. Currently, about 45 per cent of Singapore’s population is on TraceTogether, a figure Wong said he would like to see hit 70 per cent so the programme – which uses Bluetooth technology to track users who have been in proximity for an extended period of time – would be more effective. The country has been in Phase Two of its reopening since June 18, when the current limits on social groups and wedding attendees were imposed. Cinemas and malls also reopened, but restaurants with liquor licences have to stop serving alcohol by 10.30pm. This phase came after an eight-week lockdown from April 7 to June 2 that was imposed after a spike in Covid-19 numbers. Wong said some venues – including “popular” destinations such as cinemas, shopping centres and restaurants – would eventually only allow attendees who were on TraceTogether. Are contact tracing apps a panacea, privacy invasion, or simply flawed? Meanwhile, establishments that are deemed higher risk for transmission of the coronavirus, such as nightclubs, bars and karaoke venues, will not reopen at the start of Phase Three, but the government is open to running pilot programmes with them to determine how they can operate safely. Earlier this year, Singapore was feted for its handling of the pandemic, with international media reporting on its “gold standard” of health care. From January 23 – when the island nation’s first Covid-19 patient was detected – until the end of March, there were only 926 cases of the disease. However, the country’s reputation took a hit from April when a large cluster of cases emerged among its migrant worker population, with a record of 1,426 infections reported on one day that month. It then went through a strict “circuit-breaker” partial lockdown before slowly resuming services and reopening the economy. To date, Singapore has close to 58,000 infections, 94 per cent of which are among the migrant worker community. When asked if the government would make the TraceTogether programme mandatory, Wong would only say he expected most people would eventually use it. “Once we are able to put out the TraceTogether tokens by the end of November, really everyone should either have the chance to get access to a token, or the chance to get on board the app on smartphones,” he said. “So by that time, we do expect to scale up the deployment of TraceTogether-only safe entry across many public venues. So with that in place, we do expect the majority of people in Singapore to be under the TraceTogether programme.” Wong said any relaxation of measures must come with additional controls and safeguards. “In some ways, you can liken the current situation to one where a fire has just been put out but there are still embers of the fire lying around. Each time we make further relaxation of any measures, we’re simply adding wood to the fire.” As health minister Gan Kim Yong said at the same briefing, Phase Three would be a milestone but safe distancing measures could not be abandoned. “I want to remind everyone that Phase Three is not a return to the normal during the pre-Covid days. It will entail living, working, and interacting with safe management and safe distancing measures in place,” he said.