COVID-19 Pandemic: Stricter measures on Safe Distancing

Given the current circumstances, the Minister for Health, Mr Gan Kim Yong, informed Parliament of the need for an enhanced set of safe distancing measures that serves as a critical circuit breaker to reduce the increasing number local transmission of COVID-19, amongst other concerns.

A. The set of laws passed in Parliament on 7 April 2020

At the outset, there were essentially two pieces of legislation passed on 7 April 2020: (1) the authorising act called the “COVID-19 (TEMPORARY MEASURES) ACT 2020”; and (2) the subsidiary legislation called the “COVID-19 (TEMPORARY MEASURES) (CONTROL ORDER) REGULATIONS 2020”.

In Parliament, the Minister for Health, Mr Gan Kim Yong, brought up several points for us to take understand the need for this new set of laws.

1. Closure of Premises: The Minister for Health is given the power to close certain premises (e.g. workplaces, schools, recreational facilities, and places of worship) to minimise interactions and reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission except for premises that provide essential services or are in selected economic sectors that are critical for our local and global supply chains. The list of essential services is published online: https://covid.gobusiness.gov.sg/essentialservices

2. Restrictions on movement: The Minister for Health can establish measures to restrict the movement of people in specified places as well as to limit the usage of specific premises and facilities, at their place of residence, or any specified place, as well as their use of common areas such as void decks and shared facilities in HDB estates and private condominiums.

3. Restricting gatherings: The Minister for Health can prohibit events and gatherings or impose conditions on how they are conducted and on the participation in such activities to enable enhanced regulating of events and gatherings, including those that take place on private properties. The law prohibits social gatherings of any size in both private and public spaces and includes private parties or gatherings with families or friends not living together, at home or in public spaces such as in parks and HDB void decks.

B. Duration of these new laws

Essentially, there are two different periods to take note of.

With respect to the COVID-19 (TEMPORARY MEASURES) ACT 2020, section 1(7) states that Part 7 dealing with COVID‑19 CONTROL ORDERS (which covers sections 34 on the Control order to prevent spread of COVID-19, except for sections 34(1) and 34(2), and section 35 on Enforcement of control order) continues in force for a period of one year beginning on that date that the Minister for Health notifies in the Gazette. On the other hand, sections 34(1) and 34(2) of the Act come into operation on 7 April 2020 and continues in force for a period of one year.

With respect to the COVID-19 (TEMPORARY MEASURES) (CONTROL ORDER) REGULATIONS 2020, Rule 1(2) states that it will be in force for the period between 7 April 2020 and 4 May 2020 (both dates inclusive).

C. The punishment for flouting/bending/breaking the law

According to section 34(7) of the COVID-19 (TEMPORARY MEASURES) ACT 2020, a person who, without reasonable excuse, contravenes a control order, is liable to punishment.

For a first time offender, he will be sentenced to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or sent to prison for a term not exceeding 6 months or a combination of both.

For an offender who commits a second or subsequent offence, he would be sentenced to a fine not exceeding $20,000 or sent to prison for a term not exceeding 12 months or a combination of both.

D. Who is authorised to take action under these new set of laws?

According to section 35(1) of the COVID-19 (TEMPORARY MEASURES) ACT 2020, the Minister of Health may appoint certain groups of people as enforcement officers subject to any conditions or restrictions.

These groups of people would be a police officer, a Health Officer that refers to either a public officer or officer of any statutory body appointed under the Infectious Diseases Act, a public officer, an officer of a statutory body, an auxiliary police officer, an employee of a prescribed institution under the Infectious Diseases Act.

E. The premises to be avoided?

According to Rule 4 of the COVID-19 (TEMPORARY MEASURES) (CONTROL ORDER) REGULATIONS 2020, the position of the law is that individuals, except for those subject to a movement control measure, must remain and not leave his or her ordinary place of residence in Singapore except to carry out certain permitted activities.

Rule (4)(3) states that an individual may leave his or her ordinary place of residence only to do directly with all reasonable speed, any or a combination of one or more of the following:

1. to work for or with an essential service provider, a specified school or an early childhood development centre;

2. to procure any goods or services from an essential service provider, an early childhood development centre or a specified school;

3. to obtain medical treatment for a suspected COVID‑19 infection at a hospital, medical clinic or any other place, designated by the Director for the treatment of COVID‑19 or medical treatment that is of a pressing nature;

4. to engage in any recreational activity alone or with any other individual who lives with the firstmentioned individual on a public path, or in a green or an open space that is managed or maintained by the Government or a public body and is accessible to the general public without payment of any fee;

5. to transfer temporary custody or care of a child pursuant to any agreement regarding the access rights of a parent of the child, or in discharge of a legal obligation;

6. 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;

7. to report for enlistment or service under the Enlistment Act (Cap. 93);

8. 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;

9. 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;

10. to attend a funeral or funeral wake;

11. to seek or render help in an emergency;

12. to move to another place of accommodation;

13. to leave Singapore;

14. to do anything reasonably connected with and for the purposes of the matters stated above.

If an individual is febrile or exhibits any specified symptom, points 1, 4, 6, 12, and 13 stated above do not apply.

It must be reminded that an individual must not allow others to enter his or her ordinary place of residence except to enable an essential service provider to supply goods or services, any purpose connected with points 5, 9, or 12, to receive any assistance mentioned in point 6, or to receive help in an emergency mentioned in point 11.

Disclaimer: Kindly note that the opinion rendered above only serves as a general advise and the circumstances for each case differs. Should you require any further advice or clarification on the above, please do not hesitate to contact any of our legal experts by booking an appointment through ask@arlc.com.sg or contact us at +65 6240 6901.

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