SINGAPORE - From Jan 15 next year, unvaccinated workers will not be allowed to return to the workplace even if they test negative for Covid-19 24 hours beforehand.
This move is meant to bolster Singapore's protection against a large wave of local Omicron cases and keep workplaces here safe, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Sunday (Dec 26).
From Jan 1, only employees who are fully vaccinated or have recovered from Covid-19 within the past 270 days can return to the workplace.
But the authorities said in October that unvaccinated workers would be given a concession if they test negative for Covid-19.
They required a pre-event test (PET) at an MOH-approved test provider, which must be valid for the duration that the employees are required to be present at the workplace.
MOH said on Sunday that the authorities reviewed this PET concession with the tripartite partners - the Ministry of Manpower, the National Trades Union Congress and the Singapore National Employers Federation - and decided to remove it from Jan 15.
Partially vaccinated workers, who are those who have taken at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine but are not yet fully vaccinated, will be given a grace period until Jan 31 next year to complete their vaccination regime.
During the grace period, they will be able to enter the workplace with a negative PET result.
"This change will help to protect unvaccinated individuals and create safer workplaces for everyone," MOH said, adding that the tripartite partners support the move and have issued an updated advisory.
From Jan 1 to Jan 15, unvaccinated workers will have to pay for their own PETs in order to return to the workplace. Partially vaccinated workers also have to pay for their own PETs until they become fully vaccinated.
MOH said it will also open applications for a second round of free antigen rapid test (ART) kit distribution for workplaces that are not on mandatory rostered routine testing (RRT) regimes.
This will help workplaces to implement voluntary weekly testing for two months in order to facilitate early identification of Covid-19 cases and reduce workplace transmission as more return to work.
Firms with employees that work onsite and are not already subject to mandatory RRT may apply for eight ART kits per onsite vaccinated employee if they need funding support, MOH said.
The application window will open on Jan 3 and close on Jan 31.
More details will be made available on the GoBusiness website closer to the date, the ministry added.
The first free ART distribution exercise took place in September and October as the Delta variant was spreading widely in Singapore.
Given the higher transmissibility of the Omicron variant, MOH said on Sunday that all firms are encouraged to implement regular testing for all employees, even though Singapore’s workforce is already highly vaccinated and protected from severe disease.
Higher-risk workplaces are already on mandatory RRT and have been given financial support to implement this. Hence, the second round of ART kit distribution will help to support lower-risk workplaces.
As at Saturday, 546 confirmed Omicron cases have been detected here, comprising 443 imported cases and 103 local cases.
In the past week, there have been 13 unlinked community Omicron cases and 78 Omicron cases from locally linked community transmission.
At least one local Omicron clusters has been detected, and it is linked to The Vinyl Bar in River Valley Road.
The cluster had 10 cases, all of whom are fully vaccinated and have mild or no symptoms, said MOH on Saturday, adding that it is ring-fencing the cases through contact tracing.
This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.