International COVID 19 Requiring negative Covid tests for returning citizens, PRs, may not be a...

Requiring negative Covid tests for returning citizens, PRs, may not be a simple matter

This move will give more protection for staff at Changi Airport

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Singapore—From midnight on Sunday (May 30) and onward, citizens and permanent residents (PRs) are required to present a negative Covid test taken within 72 hours before being allowed to board their planes to Singapore.

This move will give more protection for staff at Changi Airport, where the biggest infection cluster to date has been found, and should also help decrease the number of community cases.

However, that this may not be a simple matter for some returnees, according to a report in The Straits Times. Moreover, ST also spoke to legal experts about the constitutionality of the requirement.

While other countries have imposed such a requirement, the Ministry of Health said in the past that it did not want to do so, in order to remove obstacles from returnees, in the event that they would have to go home quickly.

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And the new ruling does not apply for those who are coming   from lower-risk areas, such as Australia, Brunei, China, Hong Kong, Macau and New Zealand, and have spent the last three weeks in these areas. Younger children, from the age of six and down, need not present a test either.

But failing to comply with the ruling may exact a heavy toll on PRs, who could be denied entry if they do not present a negative test result. Furthermore, their entry or re-entry permit may also get canceled.

Additionally, not all negative test results are accepted, but only those from accredited or authorised health facilities.

Returning citizens and PRs must present a copy of the PCR test report in English, with the traveler’s name, date of birth, and passport number, and showing the date and result of the test.

But undergoing such a test may not be easy for travelers, depending on what area they come from. 

The unavailability of the test may even, ultimately, be the reason why a Singaporean can’t go home, otherwise, people in such situations may need to stay in another city temporarily where they can avail of such tests.

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And what happens when a returnee does test positive for Covid-19 at pre-departure. The MOH has said that they need to see a doctor, ensure they are fully recovered and can no longer transmit the disease before returning to Singapore.

But those with severe Covid and need urgent medical treatment may still avail of a medevac flight to come home.

The issue of whether the new requirement is constitutional was brought up by Mr Benjamin Joshua Ong, a Singapore Management University assistant professor of law, ST says.

According to Article 13(1) of the Singapore Constitution, no citizen of Singapore shall be “banished or excluded” from Singapore.

And while the courts are yet to rule on the exact definitions of “banished” or “excluded”, Prof Ong said, “It is possible that those words mean that anything preventing a citizen of Singapore from travelling to Singapore would be unconstitutional. On the other hand, a court might also hold that it is acceptable for certain requirements to be imposed on citizens before they can return…

I think it is at least arguable that, if the restrictions are too onerous, then those restrictions would in substance amount to banishment or exclusion.”

The professor has suggested that exceptions be made, as in the case of a citizen who is overseas with an expiring visa or work permit, but cannot go home due to lack of access to a Covid-19 test.

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He is asking MOH for clarification on the precise legal basis for the new pre-departure test requirement.

But Mr Eugene Tan, Associate Professor at SMU, disagrees

“While Article 13(1) is not explicitly subjected to any derogations or restrictions, a citizen who is not in Singapore voluntarily cannot be said to be banished or excluded.”

He added that it is unlikely for citizens to not be allowed to enter the country in the event that they do make it to Singapore without the negative test.

“In other words, the pre-departure test requirement imposes a duty on the flight or ferry operator to ensure that all passengers travelling to Singapore have the necessary negative test results based on their travel histories. The constitutional guarantee provided by Article 13(1) is in no way under threat,” he said.

/TISG

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Surge in Covid-19 swab tests; expect delays in receiving results, say lab officials

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