Most employees in Singapore should be prepared to continue working from home after the city state ends its partial lockdown known as a “circuit breaker” on June 1, the country’s Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said. This would be part of Singapore’s new normal for the long-haul, to minimise the chances of the coronavirus spreading, resulting in another round of “costly and inconvenient” circuit breaker measures, Chan said. He said it was unclear how long the deadly Covid-19 illness would be around for, given how global health experts’ estimates ranged from a few months to up to two years. Lockdown fatigue in US, Australia as Singapore, Japan stay home, Google data shows That timeline would dim chances of life returning to normal soon for most of the world’s population. About 85 per cent of Singapore’s workforce has been working from home since the circuit breaker came into force in early April and schools and most workplaces were closed. Only essential services and industries crucial to the economy and global supply chains such as biopharmaceuticals and petrochemicals have remained open. As infections increased in March and before the circuit breaker was implemented, about 70 per cent of employees had already begun working from home. “For those who are able to work from home we expect them to continue to work from home for the foreseeable future,” Chan said. Singapore’s authorities intend to ramp up manufacturing activities, with the industry contributing to about 20.9 per cent of GDP last year and employing 377,100 workers. To do so safely, factories will need to adapt their workforce to new distancing measures. Singapore to ease ‘circuit breaker’ partial lockdown starting May 5 This would include using technology to track workers’ movements and making sure that workers in different shifts and worksites do not interact inside and outside of work. This could include tracking workers’ movements and implementing roster systems that would effectively minimise exposure to Covid-19 between different groups of employees in the workplace. “[These measures] will be critical for us, because if there should be a case in any one particular group, we can quickly isolate that group and allow the rest of the work to continue,” Chan said. Measures would also apply to sectors that employ migrant workers, Chan said. Almost 90 per cent of Singapore’s 17,000 infections are linked to these workers living in dormitories who do low-wage jobs shunned by Singaporeans in sectors including construction, cleaning and marine engineering. Economist Walter Theseira said the new measures could change how companies operate, including how much floor space they may need in the future, and how they hire. “Suppose you have an employee who was stuck in China or Malaysia when travel stopped and couldn’t come back due to restrictions,” Theseira said. “But you find to your surprise that life goes on and work is done and you start thinking: ‘why not hire more people like that, cheaper, in another country’? Outsourcing becomes even more powerful now that there isn’t much difference between having the worker here and in another country.” Singapore’s authorities on Saturday announced that lockdown measures would be eased from Tuesday. On May 5, traditional Chinese medicine clinics will be allowed to resume acupuncture and selling goods. Stand-alone food outlets, laundry services and barber shops can resume operations from May 12, while schools will bring back graduating students for face-to-face consultations in small groups from May 19. Coronavirus: more than 1 in 5 Singapore firms looking to slash jobs In his Labour Day address on Thursday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the priority to reopen would go to industries that keep the domestic economy going and connect Singapore to global supply chains. Entertainment outlets and large-scale sporting events would have to wait. Chan, in a virtual press conference with reporters, said companies should start preparing measures to meet safe distancing conditions now so economic agencies can work with them to restart their operations. He also elaborated on how Singapore would resume travel with Australia, Canada, South Korea and New Zealand. He said this would require coordinated standards for health checks and declarations, and a system to track and trace in case a person is infected. However, authorities would focus on essential travel, such as for business, and not mass market travel. Meanwhile, he said the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) trade deal – which brings together the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand – is still on track to be signed by the end of 2020. The countries have made an offer to India, which pulled out of talks last November, to see if it is prepared to rejoin discussions. “If India is unable to rejoin the discussions in the coming month, then plans will continue to proceed with the legal scrubbing for the preparation for the signing at the end of the year,” Chan said. Help us understand what you are interested in so that we can improve SCMP and provide a better experience for you. We would like to invite you to take this five-minute survey on how you engage with SCMP and the news.