BANGKOK – Singaporeans were able to get a haircut at the barber or pop in to their favorite bakery Tuesday as the government loosened restrictions three weeks before a partial lockdown ends.
Despite an upsurge in cases due to an outbreak among foreign workers staying in crowded dormitories, the government says transmission in the local community has dropped and plans a phased reopening of the economy.
Barbers and hairdressers, food manufacturers and outlets as well as laundry shops are among selected businesses that can open with strict health measures Tuesday after five weeks of shutdown. Barbers can operate by appointment only and notices outside shops call for face masks before entry.
Officials reminded citizens not to rush out or loiter outside to keep the city safe.
"It's a bit messy because suddenly we received the notice in such a very short notice .... but we’re trying to make it work out with all the safety measures,” said Chow Siew Yong, owner of a Chinese medicine hall.
Singapore has recorded 24,671 infections, the highest in Asia after China, India and Pakistan. But it has a low fatality rate of 21 deaths. About 90% of the cases are linked to foreign workers' dorms, which have all remained locked down as testing continues.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— EASING PHILIPPINE LOCKDOWN: President Rodrigo Duterte said the lockdown that has restricted millions of Filipinos to their homes will be eased, but he warned that people who return to work must follow safeguards to avoid more illnesses and deaths. More than 50 provinces and cities will no longer be under quarantine after May 15 and restrictions will be eased in the rest of the archipelago. Metropolitan Manila and two other high-risk areas will remain under a lockdown to the end of May but selected factories can reopen with half of their workforce, officials said. “Don’t gamble with COVID,” Duterte said. The Philippines has confirmed about 11,000 infections, including 726 deaths.
— TRAINS RUN AGAIN: India is set to run limited train service as the country looks at easing its nearly seven-week lockdown. Special trains are departing Tuesday from select cities. Passengers must be asymptomatic and maintain social distancing on board. Indian Railways also mandated a government-run contact tracing app that has been criticized over civil liberties concerns. India’s rail, road and air services were suspended in late March as part of a nationwide lockdown.
— CHINA HAS ONE NEW CASE: China reported just one new coronavirus case, as the government presses ahead with reopening measures. Some students in Beijing have returned to their schools, and Shanghai Disneyland and the ancient Forbidden City have reopened to limited visitors with social distancing maintained. Also Tuesday, the National Health Commission said 115 people remain in treatment for the coronavirus. Tuesday’s single new case follows double-digit increases over the previous two days that set off renewed warnings from officials for citizens not to become overconfident.
— TESTING SEOUL CLUB GOERS: South Korea has reported 27 new cases as health workers work to test thousands of people who visited nightspots in Seoul after detecting dozens of infections linked to club goers. Figures released by South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought national figures to 10,936 cases and 258 deaths. Clubs in the capital region have been closed again after the outbreak, and the reopening of schools was pushed back to May 20. Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said more than 7,200 people have been tested since the city requested recent visitors to the Itaewon entertainment district get COVID-19 tests.
— INDONESIAN DEATHS EXCEED 1,000: Indonesia’s death toll from the coronavirus breached 1,000 on Tuesday, the most of any country in Southeast Asia. Virus task force spokesman Achmad Yurianto said 16 new deaths were confirmed in the past 24 hours, taking the death toll to 1,007. Indonesia’s fatality rate is one of the highest in the world at about 7%, probably because insufficient testing has resulted in many cases going undetected. Indonesia has one of the lowest testing rates in the world and some epidemiologists say that has made it hard to get an accurate picture of the outbreak in the world’s fourth most populous country.
— AUSTRALIAN DEFICIT: Australia’s treasurer said the country faces a “sobering” economic outlook and will have its largest-ever deficit when a revised budget is released in October. The budget has been delayed so the government can assess the economic costs of the virus. New South Wales, Australia's most populous state, recorded no new cases of coronavirus for the first time since health authorities began documenting them in February. Australia's restrictions are to be eased in the coming months with social distancing retained.
— NO NEW CASES IN NEW ZEALAND: New Zealand reported no new cases of the virus Tuesday, the third day since early last week it has not added cases, as it prepares to relax many of its restrictions. Most businesses, including retail stores, malls, restaurants and gyms, can reopen from Thursday and schools will reopen Monday. Bars can start serving customers again from May 21. Social distancing rules will still apply and social gatherings will be limited to 10 people.
— SRI LANKA REOPENS BARBER SHOPS: Sri Lanka has allowed barber shops and beauty salons to reopen for limited services, part of the government's plan to reopen the economy. Barbers and beauticians will only be permitted to do “cutting and dyeing of hair, manicure and pedicure and waxing of arms and legs,“ according to a health ministry circular. The ministry asked barbers to avoid shaving beards. On Monday, state and private sector workers resumed work after a nearly two-month curfew. A 24-hour curfew remains in two districts, including the capital, Colombo.