Though only 4 percent of the work force in Singapore is unvaccinated for Covid-19, the government announced on Saturday that a vaccine-or-test mandate would take effect in January for practically every worker in the public and private sectors.
Those who refuse vaccination will have to pay for a daily test, and receive a negative result, before they return to the workplace.
The announcement by the health ministry comes as the country is experiencing its worst wave of infections yet.
“There is still no sign of cases falling,” the health minister, Ong Ye Kung, said on Wednesday, when the country reported 18 new deaths, its highest number on a single day since the pandemic’s start. On Tuesday, Singapore reported a record 3,994 daily cases.
The government has maintained some of the world’s strictest curbs against Covid transmission. It announced in June that it would be abandoning its zero-Covid strategy — a shift that was possible thanks to the country’s high vaccination rate. About 82 percent of the population was fully vaccinated as of Friday.
Only those who are fully vaccinated, have recovered from Covid-19 in the past 270 days, are pregnant or are medically ineligible for the vaccines will be allowed to work in person without daily tests, the health ministry said.
About 96 percent of Singapore’s work force has been fully vaccinated, the trade minister, Gan Kim Yong, said at a news conference on Saturday. About 113,000 workers remained unvaccinated, he said, and more than 10 percent were older workers.
“We would like to seek the assistance of employers in encouraging their unvaccinated employees to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” he said.
Even with one of the best vaccination rates in the world, the number of new coronavirus cases have been higher than ever in recent weeks, with two-thirds of Singapore’s intensive care capacity in use.
“At the current situation, we face considerable risk of the health care system being overwhelmed,” the finance minister, Lawrence Wong, said on Wednesday.
Singapore’s cautious approach to the pandemic contrasts with that of the United States and Europe, where fewer restrictions are placed on meeting friends, going to parties, playing sports or dining out. Vaccine mandates are becoming more common in those countries, however — Italy enacted sweeping workplace vaccination rules last week.
Singapore allows only one social gathering of up to two people a day and bars unvaccinated people from dining in or going to coffee shops unless they were tested within the previous 24 hours.