Singapore to Ease Virus Rules on Dec. 28, Beginning ‘Phase 3’

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Singapore has approved the use ofPfizer Inc. andBioNTech SE’s coronavirus vaccine and expects the first shipments by the end of the month, by which time it also plans to move into the final phase of its virus curbs.

Other vaccines are expected to arrive in Singapore “in the coming months,” Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a speech on Monday, adding the country will have enough for everyone by the third quarter of next year. Meanwhile, Singapore will further ease restrictions to stem the spread of the virus on Dec. 28, expanding the number of people allowed to gather from five to eight.

The country has set aside more than S$1 billion ($750 million) for vaccines, Lee said during the national address. “We placed multiple bets, to sign advance purchase agreements and make early down-payments for the most promising candidates,” including withModerna Inc. andSinovac Biotech Ltd, he said.

Singapore will be one of the first countries to obtain the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, Lee said. The drug has already been approved in theU.K. andCanada, and recently gained emergency U.S. authorization, marking a scientific sprint that could eventually help bring an end to a pandemic that has killed more than one million people worldwide.

190,920 in U.S.Most new cases today

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Lee said first priority will be given to those who are at greatest risk: healthcare workers and front-line personnel, as well as the elderly and vulnerable. The government has also accepted the recommendation by a committee of doctors and experts to vaccinate the entire adult population, though for this to be made voluntary.

Phase 3 Easing

With the number of reporteddaily infections in the community at or near zero in the city-state of 5.7 million people, the prime minister also said authorities will ease capacity limits in public places like malls and attractions and at places of worship under the so-called phase three.

“Please understand that even as we enter Phase three, the battle is far from won,” the prime minister said. “The Covid-19 virus has not been eradicated.”

The government has previously said that in phase three, Singapore could gradually see more travel resume while restrictions such as mask wearing and safe distancing willremain in place.

In the early months of the pandemic, Singapore in April imposed a two-month partial lockdown. Since then, the country has bolstered its treatment and testing capacity. Last month it made coronavirus testsavailable to anyone who needs one.

Even with low rates of infection, the task of resuming certain activities in Singapore’s tourism-dependent economy has proved difficult. After suspending a highly anticipated air travel bubble with Hong Kong, the city-statesaid over the weekend it will be tightening border measures for travelers from there given the deteriorating outbreak situation. Last week, a Covid-19 scare aboard a cruise ship prompted by an incorrect positive diagnosis forced an early end to an ongoing trip.

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