SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore will close schools and most workplaces for a month as part of stricter measures to curb a recent jump in coronavirus infections, it said on Friday, an announcement that sent locals racing to supermarkets to stock up on staples.
The city-state has won international praise for its two-month long battle against a virus that has infected over a million people globally, avoiding lockdown measures increasingly common around the world.
But authorities said record jumps in new infections this week, taking its total to 1,114 cases, pointed to the need for a tougher approach.
Disease experts have said breaches in Singapore’s lauded virus defence have underlined the challenge of containing the pandemic around the world.
“We have decided that instead of tightening incrementally over the next few weeks, we should make a decisive move now, to pre-empt escalating infections,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech.
Long queues promptly formed outside shops across the island and residents cleared shelves despite authorities saying supermarkets will remain open.
“I rushed here an hour ago because my friends sent me a message about a lockdown. Even now in the supermarket, there are empty shelves,” said Kim Melissa Hwang, 57, adding she had also just lost her job at a restaurant.
“If there is no job and no food…it’s very sad.”
PM Lee said the government would next week announce more support for households and businesses to tide them over the next month.
The wealthy finance and shipping hub is bracing for the worst recession in its 55-year history due to the pandemic, and the government has already announced virus relief measures this year equal to 11% of its GDP.
Under the new measures – which authorities have called a “circuit breaker” – markets and supermarkets, clinics, hospitals, utilities, transport and key banking services will remain open. Restaurants will be only allowed to do takeaway or delivery, while museums, casinos and gyms will be closed.
The new measures will be in place from April 7 until May 4, while schools will move to full home-based learning from April 8. The measures could be extended beyond a month if the situation did not improve, authorities said.
Lee urged everyone to stay at home as much as possible and to avoid socialising with others beyond their own household.
“Go out only to do essential things,” he said.
Authorities held back from raising the national virus risk assessment to red, the top level, saying the spread could still be controlled through other preventative measures such as contact tracing and quarantine.
But the government said it would no longer discourage people from wearing masks in a reversal of its previous advice as public health officials globally rethink their stance due to the growing possibility of undetected coronavirus cases.
“We also now have evidence that an infected person can show no symptoms, and yet still pass on the virus to others,” Lee said.
The government will distribute reusable masks to all households from Sunday, while conserving surgical masks for healthcare workers.
(Reporting by John Geddie, Edgar Su and Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Neil Fullick, Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie)