SINGAPORE — On Friday (Jan 31), Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong announced that all visitors to Singapore who have also travelled to China within the last 14 days will not be allowed into or even transit through Singapore. This and other new travel restrictions set by the government will take place from Saturday (Feb 1), 11:59pm.
Mr Wong, who is spearheading the multi-ministry task force handling the country’s response to the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, noted that the government is widening the current restrictions on travel, in order to minimise the risk of spread and infection.
The Wuhan coronavirus epidemic, which has already claimed the lives of 213 persons and infected more than 9,800 worldwide (as of 10:30pm on Jan 31), is showing no signs of slowing down and has already been declared by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC).
New travel restrictions
1) New visitors with recent travel history to mainland China or with PRC passports
Visitors into Singapore who have travelled to China within the last 14 days and those holding Chinese passports—except Singapore permanent residents (PRs) and long-term pass holders—will be barred from entering and transiting through Singapore.
The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) announced that effective immediately, they are suspending all issuances of any types of new visas to persons with Chinese passports. Also suspended are any previously-issued visas (whether short-term or multiple-entry) to Chinese passport holders.
Additionally, Singapore is no longer a “visa-free transit facility” for PRC passport holders, during the suspension period.
2) Returning residents and long-term pass holders with recent travel history to mainland China or with PRC passports
Singaporeans and long-term pass holders who are returning to the country but have travelled to mainland China in the last 14 days are allowed entry into Singapore but will be issued a travel advisory and placed on a mandatory 14-day leave of absence from work or school.
The 14-day period should be sufficient time for symptoms of the virus to show up or for the individuals to be pronounced clear and healthy.
During the leave of absence, people should “stay at home and avoid social contact,” said MOM in a statement released on Friday night (Jan 31). Crowded places and social or public gatherings should be avoided at all costs, and persons should monitor their health closely and call for medical attention the moment any fever or symptoms of acute respiratory illness—like coughing or shortness of breath—are displayed.
MOM noted that existing work pass holders with passports issued from Hubei or with recent travel history to the province will continue to be quarantined upon their return to Singapore.
New employment restrictions
In light of the virus risks, and in coordination with the Ministry of Health (MOH), MOM also announced that all new work pass applications for foreign workers from mainland China will automatically be rejected, for the time being.
This work restriction does not apply to existing work pass holders who are renewing their passes.
MOM noted that as the situation with the Wuhan coronavirus continues to change, additional requirements may be imposed on work pass holders.
New restrictions are not a “nationality issue”
Replying to a media query, Mr Wong emphasised that the new restrictions are not an issue of nationality.
“It is not a nationality issue. The motivation is the origins of the virus and that beyond Hubei, the virus is now spreading to other parts of China – as we have said, there is assessment that this is happening,” said Mr Wong.
When asked about the entry ban for all Chinese passport holders (who are not also Singapore residents) regardless of their travel history, Mr Wong noted that it is “because it is difficult to know [their] previous travel history”.
He added that persons can put in individual appeals if they want to challenge the restriction.
“I can imagine somebody may say ‘I’m a passport holder, but I have not be in China all this while’. I think we can take that separate from the policy, and at the operational level, ICA will have to deal with these instances,” he said.
Virus transmission on the rise
At the beginning of the week, travel restrictions were only applied to new visitors whose recent travels had taken them to China’s Hubei province.
That all changed, however, as the number of infections in China has risen to more than 9,000 cases. China has also said widespread community transmission in other parts of the country is now a very real and probable risk.
“As a result, we are likely to see a sharper rise in the local transmission of the virus in Chinese cities beyond the Hubei province in the coming days,” said MOH in a press release on Friday (Jan 31).
At the moment, MOH’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak said there is still no evidence of community spread in Singapore.
Airlines to be informed of new restrictions
Commissioner of ICA Marvin Sim announced that the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore will be passing on the information on the new travel restrictions to all airlines, for effective implementation.
In addition, MOH announced that any cabin crew members who fly China on the job are not subject to the restrictions but will have to take precautionary measures and be monitored by the ministry. Once the MOH determined that they are virus-free, only then will they be able to enter or transit into the country. /TISG
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