For the first time in two years, Ben Lim walked out of his home to the train station without a mask on Tuesday, as Singapore lifted major Covid-era restrictions in line with its strategy to live with the virus. Outdoor mask-wearing is now optional for the city of 5.45 million residents – something Lim said was an absolute treat given the city state’s sweltering heat. “Wearing a mask outdoors in our hot and humid climate, when there are no crowds around me, is unnecessary as the risk of infection or transmission is close to zero,” said the 34-year-old, though he added he would continue to err on the side of caution and mask up in crowded areas. From Tuesday, Singapore residents can also socialise in groups of 10 – up from five – while a ban on the serving and selling of alcoholic beverages after 10.30pm will be lifted. The city state is also set to simplify its border rules later this week to make international travel easier for those who are vaccinated, and is poised to fully reopen its border with Malaysia. While the government has stressed it is not taking a “Freedom Day” approach where all curbs are relaxed at once, the week marks a milestone for a population that has lived with considerably harsh restrictions for two years. There was palpable excitement among Singaporeans and a sense of relief that life was finally looking more similar to pre-pandemic times. Some people held countdown parties and shared TikTok videos of themselves excitedly removing their masks outdoors after midnight struck. But others said they would keep their masks on as it was a hassle to have to put them back on when indoors. All you need to know about Singapore’s ‘decisive’ move to live with Covid Darren, a Singaporean who wished to be known by his first name, said he was particularly looking forward to the lifting of the alcohol rule. The 30-year-old will be spending his Tuesday night at a bar and staying beyond 10.30pm, to “fully utilise this new-found freedom”, he said. Some businesses are taking the chance to celebrate. Tiger Beer, for example, said it would offer free drinks for a minute at 10.30pm at selected bars across the country. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Tiger Beer SG (@tigerbeersg) Meanwhile, other residents are feeling joy over the increase in social gathering sizes. Lesley Chew, a 40-year-old freelancer, said celebrations had been hard to organise for her big family of 11. She had to split her Christmas celebration last year to accommodate different groups of people, and it spanned two weekends. “It was rather exhausting,” she said. Chew was also glad that Tuesday’s relaxation of curbs meant that she would be able to picnic outdoors without masks, although she felt that there were still some risks involved. For now, she said she would keep her masks on even when outdoors, partly because she had got used to it and also because she did not want to increase the chance of her eight-year-old daughter catching the virus from her. Mask on, mask off, Mr Miyagi… 😷 😀 Despite the new rules kicking in today, 99.999% of people still had their mask on this morning for the school run. I took mine down to breathe in that sweet, humid air a few times! pic.twitter.com/mxRlbxZxGD — Jamie Taylor (@JTSingapore) March 28, 2022 According to an online poll conducted by market research and data analytics firm YouGov, Singapore residents are most anticipative of the resumption of larger social gatherings. The survey of 1,048 people found that one in four residents feel happy about the easing, a third of them feel relieved, and some 29 per cent feel concerned. Online, some residents have argued that the easing of measures came too fast, at a time when Singapore was still clocking thousands of infections each day. “Don’t rush to normality too fast,” one comment on Twitter read. Still, restaurants and bars have cheered the easing and are expecting larger crowds this week. At cocktail bar Nemesis, head bartender Tim Rosete said reservations had gone up by at least 20 per cent. The bar would be changing its operating hours to open till midnight as a result of the 10.30pm alcohol rule change. He believed the easing of measures would help boost revenue. “Later hours means more drinking,” he said. Anju, a Korean restaurant in downtown Singapore, has received a handful of 10-person reservations, but co-founder Eugene Yeo noted that people remained seemingly wary of Covid-19 and were not rushing to have large gatherings. Yeo said being able to host larger groups would benefit the business. “People tend to spend more on alcohol in bigger groups,” he said. Restaurants have struggled to keep up with Singapore’s ever-changing restrictions in the past two years, Yeo added, and he hoped the new set of rules would provide some form of certainty. Excitement, eye-rolling in Malaysia and Singapore as land border fully reopens Food businesses are also likely to stand to gain as more workers return to their workplaces this week. Starting Tuesday, 75 per cent of workers in every company will be allowed to return to the office, up from 50 per cent. Because of that, co-working spaces have reported a surge in enquiries. Balder Tol, general manager of WeWork Australia & Southeast Asia, said Singapore’s latest announcement saw some firms securing office spaces at WeWork and helped to accelerate discussions it was having with large enterprises. “Beyond just having more employees back, more space is also needed as companies expect more inbound business travel with the simplified rules,” Tol said. He was referring to the simplified travel rules that comes into effect on April 1, where vaccinated travellers would be able to enter Singapore as long as they test negative two days before their flight. They would not need to serve quarantine or take an on-arrival test. This, authorities said, was a bid for Singapore to reclaim its international aviation hub status, with expectations that arrivals would hit 50 per cent of pre-pandemic levels. Alex Holmes, economist at Capital Economics, said Singapore’s rapid reopening of its borders would prove a boon to its economic growth if it helped reverse the huge 4.1 per cent fall in the population during the pandemic. He noted that the return of long-term migration was important for Singapore. The easing of domestic restrictions, meanwhile, would provide a “much-needed boost” for Singapore’s hospitality, tourism and transport sectors, Holmes said. But he warned that the measures would boost price pressures, with the price of air fares, hotels, and food services expected to rise sharply. Maybank economist Chua Hak Bin also pointed to how some firms and restaurants had been grappling with staff shortages and might not be able to fully capitalise on the stronger demand and larger crowd from Tuesday’s reopening. Increased manpower demand would drive up wages and this would mean that hotels, for example, would have to offer higher salaries to draw workers back from other sectors, such as F&B. There could be some “merry-go-found and an unhealthy bidding war” for local workers, and this would likely add to the near-term inflation pressures for domestic services, Chua said. The reopening of land borders with Malaysia could ease some of these labour shortages in the medium-term as more Malaysian workers enter Singapore, he said, noting that in the pre-pandemic era, more than 300,000 people used the crossing daily. Still, he suggested that Singapore’s significant relaxation of measures would help boost services growth, including the hospitality, F&B and retail sectors, which has been lagging in the economic recovery. “The reopening is timely and will help to partly offset the negative impact from the Ukraine-Russia war, supply disruptions and rising energy prices,” Chua said.