People in Singapore will no longer be required to wear masks outdoors and the city state will put in place its most significant easing of Covid-19 restrictions from next Tuesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said Most restrictions for travellers will also be lifted, the prime minister said in a televised address, with ministers later elaborating that travellers who are vaccinated would be able to enter quarantine-free from April 1 with on-arrival tests dropped. Lee and his counterpart in Malaysia , Ismail Sabri Yaakob, later announced in a joint statement that they would further reopen land borders (for fully-vaccinated travellers) between both countries, which shared one of the world’s busiest land crossings in the pre-pandemic era. Both nations are working towards a full resumption of air travel as well. Prime Minister Lee said the moves signified the country’s plan to “take a decisive step forward towards living with Covid-19”. Among the key changes announced was the removal of the outdoor mask mandate first imposed in April 2020 when Singapore entered into a two-month lockdown. It will still be compulsory to wear masks in indoor public areas. People will also be allowed to socialise in groups of 10, from the current five. All you need to know about Singapore’s ‘decisive’ move to live with Covid “The Omicron wave has crested, and is now subsiding. With many of us already exposed to the virus and recovered, our population has stronger immunity,” Lee said. Singapore has a population of 5.45 million and last weekend crossed the 1 million mark for infections. The bulk of infections occurred only this year when the more transmissible Omicron variant swept through the population, with more than 25,000 cases a day at its peak. But with 92 per cent of the population fully vaccinated and 71 per cent boosted, most cases have mild or no symptoms and are recovering from home. Just 951 are in the hospitals now despite close to 400,000 getting infected in the past 28 days. Lee said Singapore had reached a “major milestone” in its Covid-19 journey, and it was crucial that the healthcare system – while under “considerable stress” – remained resilient. He said the government looked at the healthcare system when deciding how far and fast to ease restrictions. Singapore’s reopening plan has often been compared to the starkly different zero-Covid approach adopted by its regional rival Hong Kong. Even though infections in Hong Kong have fallen and there are plans to significantly ease pandemic-control measures next month, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has repeatedly stressed that it did not mean the city was embracing a “living with the virus” strategy. Lam, who was holding a press conference as Lee spoke, was asked about Singapore’s relaxation of measures. She maintained that Hong Kong remained a “very attractive global financial centre” and said there was no “one size fits all” approach in combating Covid-19 and so the measures adopted by governments differ. “I also don’t believe that there are only two pathways. That’s why I said that perhaps it’s not very meaningful to ask us to choose whether you are going for route A or route B,” she said. Be psychologically prepared for more twists and turns ahead Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong In his address, Singapore’s Lee also announced a new Vaccinated Travel Framework that will let Singaporeans travel abroad more easily. “Almost like before Covid-19,” said the prime minister, 70, whose planned retirement was delayed by the pandemic. He said the new travel policies will “help Singapore reclaim its position as a business and aviation hub”. Its neighbours Malaysia and Thailand have already opened to all vaccinated travellers without making them go through quarantine. Singapore meanwhile only allows quarantine-free entry for those using its vaccinated travel lanes with 32 countries. Lee added that the changes “stop short of a complete opening up” and Singapore must remain watchful instead of declaring the pandemic over since the virus will continue evolving. He said the population has to be “psychologically prepared for more twists and turns ahead” in case “more aggressive and dangerous mutants will turn up, just like Delta did”. “If that happens, we may have to backtrack and tighten up our restrictions again,” he warned. “We cannot rule this out, even though we hope it will not be necessary.” Selena Ling, head of treasury research and strategy at OCBC Bank, said Lee’s address would give Singapore businesses and consumers the confidence that Covid-19 was indeed being treated as endemic, and marked “a bold step towards living with Covid-19 rather than living under the shadow of it”. While the growth of Singapore’s economy would still be affected by factors including geopolitical uncertainties pertaining to Ukraine and inflation, Ling said she expected faster improvements in visitor numbers and private consumption appetite over the coming months. As Hong Kong cases surge, a look at Asia’s lockdowns from Singapore to India “The move to relax the number of people dining-in and allowing alcohol sales [after 10.30pm] may be an important lifeline for the domestic food and beverage, retail and entertainment industries,” she said. The stock market greeted the news positively with aviation and travel-related counters in Singapore up on Thursday after Lee’s speech. Shares of national carrier Singapore Airlines were up 3.9 per cent, or S$0.20, to S$5.38 (US$3.96) as of lunch time while its maintenance arm SIA Engineering rose 4 per cent, or S$0.09, to S$2.32.