Workplace rules ease despite omicron threat

SINGAPORE: As the country sees Covid-19 infections easing, workplace rules follow suit even if the threat of an “omicron wave” is up.

Almost 50% of fully-vaccinated individuals who work remotely may return to the office starting January 1, according to the Ministry of Health. But social gatherings at the workplace remain prohibited.

Employees may also return to the office if they have recovered from Covid-19 in the past nine months.

However, the government said it would impose additional measures to prepare for a potential spread of omicron, a more highly contagious coronavirus variant. The government is considering halting the previous exemption for unvaccinated employees to enter the workplace if they have a valid test. Currently, they may go to the office if they have a negative pre-event testing (PET) result for the period they must be at the workplace. The PET result is valid for 24 hours.

Singapore employers may also require unvaccinated staff to pay for regular Covid-19 testing.

The country, with 87% of its total population inoculated, continues to ramp up its vaccinations which now include children aged five to 11, possibly before the year ends.

“Unfortunately, the pandemic is not ending soon,” Finance Minister Lawrence Wong, said. “In some ways, this is, perhaps, the calm before the next storm. So we do have to brace ourselves for the omicron wave.”

Earlier reports have mentioned that according to the Ministry of Manpower, 97% of Singapore's workforce have been vaccinated, and only about 75,000 employees are unvaccinated as of December 5. This number met the January 1 deadline for all staff to be fully vaccinated to be able to return to the workplace.

Jaya Dass, managing director of recruitment agency Randstad Singapore, thinks that most companies will play it by ear before returning to the workplace, more likely as in their case, after the Chinese New Year. Dass said they need to first plan the rotation and integration for the staff and split teams.

For recruitment agency Robert Walters, returning to the office is very likely. Tricia Tan, Robert Walters’ human resources director for Southeast Asia said, "Being in an office environment helps to strengthen a sense of belonging and inclusion."

She added that unvaccinated employees who work from home may feel less motivated and this may impact their performance.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said, although Singapore is not out of the woods yet, it is confident that it could cope with the challenge posed by omicron because of the high vaccination and booster rates, and the dwindling number of cases. So far, it has detected 71 omicron cases as of December 21.

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