SINGAPORE: Parents who have recently returned from a family holiday overseas said they will take leave or work from home to care for their children.
This follows a government announcement on Thursday (Mar 19) that all students and school staff members returning from travel during the March school holidays will be placed on a 14-day leave of absence.
In a joint press release, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Social and Family Development said that students and staff members of schools, pre-schools and student care centres who returned from overseas on or after Mar 14 will have to serve a 14-day leave of absence from the date of their return.
This is different from a stay-home notice. Those serving a leave of absence may leave their homes for short periods of time, while those serving a stay-home notice will have to remain at their place of residence at all times.
When CNA visited Changi Airport Terminal 1 on Thursday evening, there were several families with children who had just returned home from their holidays.
READ: Singaporeans advised to defer all travel abroad amid heightened risk of imported COVID-19 cases
Those who spoke to CNA said that they found out about the leave of absence through the news, after they had left Singapore.
Mr Woo Wai Khong, 35, who has two children in primary school and one in pre-school, said that his family was on a vacation in New Zealand when they learned about the leave of absence requirement for their children.
“We have no plans yet, probably need to work from home. One of us needs to be at home – whether it is working from home or taking leave. Me or my wife,” said Mr Woo.
But it was “not really surprising”, he added, given how the situation was unfolding.
“I’m accepting,” he said.
Mr Edward Goh, 39, who was waiting for his nine-year-old son to arrive from Australia, also said that he would take leave to care for his son during his leave of absence.
CNA also spoke to families who would have to serve out stay-home notices, after the Ministry of Health announced on Sunday that those with recent travel history to ASEAN countries, Japan, Switzerland or the United Kingdom will be required to do so.
The stay-home notice requirement kicked in at 11.59pm on Monday. It applies to all travellers, including Singapore residents, long-term pass holders and short-term visitors.
READ: COVID-19: Stay-home notices for all travellers entering Singapore from ASEAN countries, Japan, UK, Switzerland
Mr Yio Wee Kheng, 44, who returned from a trip to Malaysia with his family and maid, said: “The main issue is that we departed on Sunday, and this advisory - 14 days (stay-home notice) after coming back from Malaysia - only came in quite late.
“We could have cancelled if the notice came earlier, but we didn't cancel because the insurance (would not have covered the cancellation),” said Mr Yio, who has one child in primary school and one in pre-school.
He added that his Indonesian maid was unable to return to Singapore due to new restrictions that required employers to receive approval from the Ministry of Manpower before foreign domestic workers may enter Singapore.
“We were caught by surprise,” he said, adding that his wife had to remain in Malaysia with his maid.
READ: Entry approval, stay-home notices for all new, returning foreign domestic workers to Singapore
Mr Medina Irwin Dizon, 44, also found out that his family would have to serve a stay-home notice after departing for the Philippines on Mar 13.
Mr Dizon said he had already made arrangements with his daughter’s form teacher before travelling, and his daughter would continue her lessons through e-learning.
Education Minister Ong Ye Kung addressed the new leave of absence requirements in a Facebook post on Thursday.
“Thousands of our students and their families have travelled overseas and have returned, or are now making their way back,” he said, noting that the new travel restrictions coincided with the March school holidays.
“Our priority must be to protect the education system and keeping students safe.”
He added that the ministry is suspending co-curricular activities and deferring the Singapore Youth Festival Arts Presentation. The National School Games will continue to be suspended until the end of the June holidays, despite requests from parents and students.
“I know many students, parents and coaches will be disappointed. And many students and parents will be inconvenienced. I hate to have to do this, but it is critical that we protect the system, and keep everyone who has overseas exposure to the virus away from the school population.
“Then we can possibly return to the calm we enjoyed before the March school holidays. We need to do our best to maintain that,” he said.
On Friday, the Ministry of Manpower urged employers to impose a 14-day company leave of absence for all employees returning to Singapore from Mar 14 to 20. The ministry encouraged employers to offer flexible work arrangements or to provide additional paid leave if working from home is not feasible.
Employers and those who are self-employed may claim S$100 in daily support for a company leave of absence.