Experts Explain: COVID-19 and safe management measures

Your questions on COVID-19 and safe management measures answered

Curious how a swab test feels like, or wondered why we should still keep our social circles small even though safe distancing is not required on public transport?

While some safe management measures may seem curious when compared to others, rest assured there is always a good reason behind each one.

Hear the explanations straight from our three experts: Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Communications and Information & Ministry of Health; Dr Koh Poh Koon, Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Health; and Assoc Prof Vernon Lee, Director (Communicable Diseases) at the Ministry of Health.

Before you can even sneeze, the test is done.
Dr Koh Poh Koon

1. Is the swab test painful and must I pay for it?

Dr Koh: If you're having symptoms like the flu and your doctor recommends you go for a swab test, you can have it done for free, at the Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs), the regional screening centres, and all government polyclinics.

It's a simple swab test through the nose and takes less than 10 seconds - I've done it twice in the last two weeks. The swabs are actually much thinner than a cotton bud that you normally use and only goes in slightly more than where your fingers normally can reach. The only discomfort you feel would be the urge to sneeze. But before you can even sneeze, the test is done. So, do not be afraid to go for the swab test if your doctor recommends it.

2. Can I lower my mask when sipping my drink while walking?

Dr Janil: Well, I don't know how you can drink with a mask still on - you have to lower it to drink. But of course, put it back on again when you're done. More importantly, if it’s bubble tea, ask for less sugar, please.

3. Why should my colleagues and I stagger our lunch times when we share the same office space?

Prof Vernon: There's a big difference between spending time in the office and going for lunch. In the office, most of the time, our masks are on and we are able to maintain good physical distance.

Now, when we are dining with our colleagues, our masks are off most of the time. We are in much closer physical proximity, and we also tend to talk quite loudly in a social environment. So, it is very important then that we limit the number of colleagues that we go out for lunch with.

It is also important for us to stagger our meal times, so that we can avoid overcrowding in our lunch venues.

4. Are young children considered as pax when dining out?

Prof Vernon: This is not quite like going to attractions, where young children can get in for free. Unfortunately with COVID-19, babies and young children are also susceptible to infection. That means that every individual must be counted towards the total number of people in a certain venue.

5. Why must we wear our masks when dining out with our family?

Prof Vernon: So, can you imagine if you're drinking a cup of coffee, and someone walks past you and coughs or sneezes at you without a mask on, that would be extremely gross.

Therefore, if you're not eating or drinking, please put on a mask to protect yourself and to also protect others.

6. Why are only small groups allowed in makan places?

Dr Koh: The virus spreads most effectively when the three V's coincide. What are they?

  • Vocalisation - which is about talking, singing without your mask on, and spreading aerosols and droplets into the air.
  • Volume of interaction - when people come close together and spend a long time together talking to one another.
  • Venue - the type of settings where people come together, places like restaurants, pubs, nightclubs, where people interact in close proximity.

So, when the three V's come together - it is a super spreader event, and the virus can spread very effectively. That's why we recommend that in a restaurant setting, the group size should be kept small and you should sit further apart. You should put on your mask when you finish eating, so that you keep yourself and others safe.

7. Why must I keep my social circle small, when I squeeze with many others on public transport?

Prof Vernon: There are several differences between taking public transportation and interacting with our close family and friends in our social circle.

In our social circles, as we eat and drink, there are many times when the masks are off, when we are talking loudly and have very close interactions. These provide the opportunity for respiratory droplets to transmit COVID-19 to one another. Public transportation, on the other hand, is quite different. Although sometimes you're not able to maintain safe distancing, wearing a mask and refraining from talking will prevent the explosion of respiratory droplets.

Also, when you leave the MRT or bus, please sanitise your hands to keep your hands clean. If we do all this, we would actually reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread to a very low level.

The other thing that we all must remember to do is to use our TraceTogether App, or to carry the Token. This helps us to contact trace any COVID-19 case that might occur.


Larger droplets may actually spread for about 0.4 metres before they drop to the ground, but very fine droplets might travel between one to two metres and linger around in the air for up to a minute. 
Assoc Prof Vernon Lee

8. Can we stop wearing a mask if we practise social distancing?

Prof Vernon: So, wearing a mask is actually one of the most important tools that prevent the spread of COVID-19.

When we talk very loudly, or cough and sneeze, what happens is that respiratory droplets spread far and wide. The larger droplets may actually spread for about 0.4 metres before they drop to the ground, but very fine droplets might travel between one to two metres and linger around in the air for up to a minute. We put on a mask to prevent ourselves from getting infected by these droplets, and to prevent us from spreading disease to others.

9. If walking is my exercise, can I not wear a mask?

Dr Koh: The rule is that once we get out of the house, we should put on the mask. Treat it as part of your wardrobe, because it protects you and protects others as well. If you're walking very briskly, and you start to feel breathless, it is probably alright to take the mask off for a short period of time. Once you feel comfortable, you should put it back on, to maintain the protection.

Some seniors find that it's quite difficult to do strenuous exercises, and sometimes when they go out for a stroll or walk, they tend to feel breathless. In that case, for their own safety, it's probably alright to let the mask off for a little while. But remember, the protection must be on at all times If you're not feeling breathless.

TraceTogether is really about who we’re putting at risk when we’re sick. It's about protecting our loved ones. 
Dr Janil Puthucheary

11. Why must the SafeEntry and TraceTogether App/Token be used together?

Dr Janil: Well, SafeEntry with the QR codes is about where we have been.

TraceTogether is very different. It uses Bluetooth to check our proximity to other people. It's really about who we’re putting at risk when we’re sick. It's about protecting our loved ones. So, we need both to keep us all safe together.

12. Why is the Stay-Home Notice duration different for some travellers?

Dr Janil: There are three different ways in which we protect ourselves here in Singapore.

  • For travellers from highest risk countries, they will be served a 14 day Stay-Home Notice (SHN) or quarantine because their risk is much higher than here in Singapore.
  • For those from countries where things are improving, they serve a seven-day SHN, with COVID-19 swabs, of course.
  • For other places, where their numbers are pretty much the same as ours, or even lower, the risk is low, about the same as going from Jurong to Punggol. So, we just ask them to do a COVID-19 swab test when they arrive in Singapore.

This article is part of our #WhyAh series that explores the “Why’s” behind our COVID-19 safe management measures.