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Wuhan virus: Main lines of defence are strengthening of border controls and detection of cases

Minister Lawrence Wong clarifies difference between mandatory quarantine and two-week leave of absence

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SINGAPORE — Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong spoke in Parliament on Monday (Feb 3) about Singapore’s two main lines of defence against the further spread of the Wuhan virus.

They are (1) strengthening of Singapore’s border controls, and (2) detection and isolation of infected persons, suspected infected persons and persons close to them.

Mr Wong, who co-chairs the Singapore task force on the coronavirus, issued clarifications on the most effective ways to minimise risk of further infection — mandatory quarantine and a two-week leave of absence (LOA).

Mr Wong clarified the difference between the two, at the same time emphasising that while measures are being put in place to protect Singaporeans, they must also do their part to follow recommendations strictly and cooperate with the efforts of the Government.

Quarantine

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The Government has put all close contacts of the 18 confirmed cases in the country into quarantine, along with travellers in Singapore deemed “high risk”, who entered the country from Hubei province (before Singapore set stricter travel restrictions).

Mr Wong noted that the Government was using a “well-established contact tracing procedure”, first used during the Sars outbreak of 2002 and 2003, and used as well to identify close contacts in the Mers and H1N1 outbreaks.

As of Sunday night (Feb 2), there were 524 people under quarantine in Singapore — 222 in government quarantine facilities (GQF) and 302 quarantined in their homes.

Home quarantine or GQF?

Mr Wong explained that the Ministry of Health (MOH) examines individuals who are being considered for quarantine and determines whether they can be quarantined at home or need to be moved to a GQF.

If MOH’s investigations find the home suitable for home quarantine, that is where the person will be isolated. Those whose homes are not deemed acceptable or appropriate will be placed by MOH in government quarantine facilities.

Guidelines for those under home quarantine:

  • They must report their health status regularly via video call, which will also ensure that they have not physically left their quarantine locations.
  • They are subject to random spot checks from MOH.
  • They must remain in their assigned quarantine locations at all times.
  • They must not physically interact with others living on the premises or with anyone else.
  • Those who flout the quarantine orders will be given strict penalties, which can include jail and/or fines.

Leave of absence

The second measure that people can take is to go on a 14-day leave of absence.

For those considered “low risk”; i.e. Chinese nationals who are Permanent Residents or long-term pass holders of Singapore, or those who have recently returned from other parts of mainland China besides Hubei province — quarantine is not necessary unless the individual displays symptoms of the coronavirus.

On their return to Singapore, they will be asked to take a two-week leave of absence (LOA) from work, just to minimise their exposure to others and decrease the risk of community spread in the country.

Guidelines for those on LOA:

  • They must stay at home as much as possible.
  • They must record all their close interactions with people.
  • They must reduce time spent outside the house, in public places and in contact with others as much as possible.
  • They must monitor and record their health status and temperature every day.
  • They must avoid having visitors and going to crowded places and social get-togethers.

Once they have served the two-week LOA, they can resume normal activities and work if they remain symptom-less after the entire duration and are given a clean bill of health.

Singaporeans need to stand together amidst the crisis

Mr Wong underlined the need for Singaporeans to stand united during this time of crisis, advising citizens to “rise to the occasion” and “look out for one another to get through this together”.

Unity is necessary, he said, and Singapore cannot let the coronavirus be a point of discrimination against each other. Mr Wong noted that there have been instances of Singaporean residents who requested that people on home quarantine or LOA living in the same block be moved to another location.

The Government is very aware of discrimination forming against people simply because of their nationality during the virus outbreak. Mr Wong said that some landlords have been taking action against tenants based on their nationality and have even evicted Chinese tenants who were on LOA.

While Mr Wong reiterated that he understands Singaporeans’ worries about their own health and that of their family members, he also had words of warning against engaging in “irrational and irresponsible actions”.

“Doing so will only pull our society apart, and foster division and suspicions, all of which will make it harder for us to deal with the challenges at hand,” he said in Parliament.

Mr Wong reminded citizens that the Government “will not hesitate to take firm measures” against actions that could put the country and its citizens at further risk in the battle against the virus. /TISG

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