Singapore reopens Chinese drugstores and barbers with tracing system

SINGAPORE — Singapore will reopen businesses, step by step, starting May 5, the government said Saturday, in the first easing of business closures since nonessential workplaces and schools were shut on April 7.

The restart relies on technology to ensure safety. Retail businesses that reopen will be required to use the government-developed SafeEntry contact tracing system to record who visits shops.

Starting May 5, acupuncturists can reopen, and registered practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine will also be allowed to sell products. Chinese medicine is popular in Singapore, especially among seniors, as it is believed to ease chronic pain that other types of medicines cannot treat.

Some other businesses, including barbers, pet supply retailers and pastry shops, will be allowed to reopen on May 12.

The SafeEntry system records the name, identification information and mobile phone number of customers and employees, the government said. Visitors scan a QR code at shop entrances using their smartphones to upload their data.

“We will leverage technology and require all business and services that are opened up from May 12 to put in place the SafeEntry app,” National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said during an online news conference on Saturday. This “allows us to speed up contact tracing,” he said.

The city-state on April 7 began what it calls a “circuit breaker” period, shutting down nonessential workplaces and schools. It also required people to stay home as much as possible. The lockdown was originally scheduled to end May 4, but the government extended it until June 1 after infections spiked in late April at migrant worker dormitories and daily new among local residents stayed in double digits.

Singapore’s announcement followed similar opening measures by Singapore’s neighbors. Malaysia will allow most businesses to resume Monday, after a six-week nationwide lockdown, while Thailand will reopen restaurants and golf courses, starting Sunday. Vietnam has also allowed businesses to reopen.

Singapore reported 932 new coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing the total to 17,101, the highest number in Southeast Asia. But Gan Kim Yong, the health minister, on Saturday noted that cases among Singaporeans and permanent residents have dropped to an average of 12 per day over the past week, down from 25 a week before, citing this as a reason to allow the phased resumption of business.

Referring to a general reopening of businesses after June 1, Minister Wong said opening up all businesses suddenly is impossible. “Gradual, calibrated adjustment will apply” to ensure safety, he said.

Schools, meanwhile, will reopen starting May 19 for a limited number of students graduating this year who need face-to-face instruction, the government said. The Education Ministry earlier brought the midyear school holiday forward from June to May to coincide with the shutdown.

Singapore’s small, open economy has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. DBS Group Holdings on April 27 said Singapore’s gross domestic product will shrink 5.7% this year, downgrading its previous forecast for a 2.8% contraction. The government’s official growth forecast, released in late March, gave a range of minus 4% to minus 1% growth.

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