Safe Distancing for Individuals: The Cans, Cannots, Musts, and Mustn’ts

The government has laid down a flurry of new restrictions and directions relating to the movement of people in a bid to curb the spread of Covid-19. These can be found in the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 (the“Act”) and the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations (the “Regulations”).

For now, the restrictions are in force from 7 April to 4 May 2020. However, an extension may be required if the virus continues to spread. New directives are constantly being promulgated to deal with the changing situation.

Here’s an overview of the current directives (as of the date of this article). In summary, you cannot leave your home except for the limited activities set out in Regulations 4(3) and any breach is a criminal offence which can make you liable to a fine and/or imprisonment.

Why can’t I leave my home?

Regulation 4(2) says that “every individual must stay at or in, and not leave, his or her ordinary place of residence in Singapore.” This means that you and your family members who live in the same household must stay at home except for limited activities set out in Regulations 4(3).

What are the exceptions to leaving my home?

Under Regulation 4(3), we can leave our homes to do the following quickly and without lingering:

  • to go to work if your employer is an essential service provider, a specified school or an early childhood development centre;
  • to buy any goods or services from an essential service provider (like buy food from a supermarket), an early childhood development centre or a specified school;
  • to seek medical treatment due to a suspected COVID‑19 infection at a hospital, medical clinic or any other place OR other urgent medical treatment;
  • to do any recreational activities alone or with any other person who lives in the same household;
  • to assist any individual who has a physical or mental disability, or is 12 years of age and below, or 60 years of age and above, with his or her daily needs, where there is no other assistance available to the individual;
  • to transfer temporary custody or care of a child due to divorce or other legal obligations;
  • to report to any law enforcement officer or to attend at any court in accordance with any warrant, summons or order made under any written law or order of a court;
  • to the extent necessary to comply with an order of a court or a direction given in exercise of a power under any written law;
  • to attend a funeral or funeral wake;
  • to seek or render help in an emergency;
  • to move to another place of accommodation; or
  • to leave Singapore.

What if I have a fever and want to seek medical help?

If you are having a fever or exhibiting any symptom of a potential COVID-19 infection, you are not allowed to leave your home to do the following (Regulation 4(3B)):

  • go to work (if you work for an essential service provider);
  • go out for exercise;
  • assist any individual who has a physical or mental disability, or is 12 years of age and below, or 60 years of age and above, with his or her daily needs;
  • move to another place of accommodation;
  • leave Singapore.

Under Regulation 4(3), you can go to Public Health Preparedness Clinic (PHPCs) to seek medical treatment (for a list of PHPCs near you, see www.phpc.gov.sg). The clinic may take samples to see if you have COVID-19. You must stay home and not go out while waiting for the results.

If I go out to do one of the permissible activities under the exceptions, what must I do?

You must wear a mask the moment you leave home. Exceptions to this are for children under two, or if you are out doing strenuous exercise. Even then, you must put on the mask immediately after finishing the exercise (e.g. if you are jogging, you need not wear a mask, but the moment you stop jogging and start walking home or doing cool down exercises or stretches, the mask must go back on; so bring a mask out with you when you go exercise outdoors).

You must also practise safe distancing. Safe distancing refers to the One Metre Rule (Regulation 7). It means that even if you leave your home in the above limited circumstances, you must:

  • keep your distance of at least one metre from any other individual in public, be it in the open or indoors, for example, if you have to stand in a queue
  • for seats fixed to the floor, you must not sit on seats that have been demarcated;
  • for seats not fixed to the floor, you must sit one metre away from other seats.

This One Metre Rule does not apply to motor vehicles (like Grab cars), public transport or the premises used in connection with the public transport (for example, MRT stations). However, there are safe distancing stickers on public transport that you must adhere to.

For deliveries to your home, it is best to ask the deliveryman to leave the item outside your door so that there is contactless delivery. Remember to sanitise the item (where possible) and wash your hands after touching and discarding the box.

Additionally, Enterprise Singapore and the Singapore Tourism Board have recently clarified that if you are going to supermarkets, convenience stores, pharmacies or shopping malls to purchase essential goods, you must wear a mask or you will be denied entry.

Hawkers, taxi drivers, food delivery riders and other essential works – can I eat outside?

On 12 April 2020, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has clarified that:

  • hawker stall operators can consume meals only at tables in front of their stalls. You must dine alone and not share your table with others, and keep at least one metre apart from others.
  • Taxi drivers, food delivery riders and other essential workers who are required to be on the move can have their lunches in their vehicles or at public spaces such as HDB void decks or park benches, but only if it is not practical to return to their offices or homes to eat. For example, if you are a food deliveryman and you are far away from home after making deliveries, you may consume your lunch at nearby public spaces since you do not have a physical office and it would be impractical for you to travel home to eat.

However, if you are eating in public spaces, you must:

  • eat alone and quickly;
  • keep at least one metre apart from others;
  • leave the public space in a clean state after you have finished eating;
  • carry identification to prove that you are employed in your line of work.

What happens if I breach safe distancing rules?

 The penalties can be serious (see section 34(7) of the Act):

  • From 12 April 2020, it was announced by the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, that persons who breach the Act and Regulations will immediately be fined $300. No stern warnings will be issued.
  • Subsequent offences may result in you facing prosecution in court. If convicted, you can be ordered to pay a fine up to exceeding $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 6 months.
  • For a second or subsequent offence, if convicted, you may be ordered to pay a fine up to $20,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 12 months.

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