SINGAPORE: Singapore will not allow short-term visitors to enter or transit through the country in view of the heightened risk of importation of COVID-19 cases, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Sunday (Mar 22).
Previously, except for a handful of countries, short-term visitors were allowed to come into Singapore, although they will have to serve a 14-day stay-home notice once they entered the country.
The expanded restriction to all short-term visitors will take effect at 11.59pm on Monday, MOH said in a press release.
At the same time, only work pass holders providing essential services, such as in healthcare and transport, will be allowed by the Manpower Ministry to enter or return to Singapore. This will include their dependents.
"In light of the rapidly escalating virus outbreak around the world, we have decided to significantly tighten our borders," National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said at a media briefing on Sunday morning.
"These are very significant moves, especially for a small open economy like Singapore that has always been connected to the world," he said.
"This is an unprecedented crisis so we have deliberated over this carefully."
Mr Wong, who co-chairs a multi-ministry task force tackling the outbreak here, said these new measures are needed to keep Singapore's borders safe, as well as to limit the number of new imported cases and conserve resources for returning Singaporeans.
Almost 80 per cent of Singapore's new COVID-19 infections over the past three days were imported cases with travel histories to 22 different countries, MOH said in its press release.
Most of them are Singapore residents and long-term pass holders who are returning home.
As previously announced, all Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term pass holders returning to the country will be issued a 14-day stay-home notice, which requires them to stay home at all times.
Even with the 14-day stay-home notice, Singapore still sees short-term visitor numbers "in the hundreds", said Mr Wong. On Saturday, 533 short-term visitors arrived in Singapore.
While "very few" of these short-term visitors have been diagnosed with COVID-19, the minister said enforcement resources are still required to serve them stay-home notices and ensure that they comply.
"Even if one were to fall sick, they take up medical resources and during this time, we just have to focus our resources on the returning Singaporeans because they are coming back in large numbers," he told reporters.
For work pass holders, Mr Wong noted that they are already required to seek approval from the Manpower Ministry before travelling to Singapore.
"So we are simply saying, no one can return unless you are deemed essential," he said.
This may include returning foreign domestic helpers, particularly if there is a real need to look after the elderly or children, he said in response to a question.
Meanwhile, the Singapore-Malaysia Special Working Committee has agreed that Malaysians with work permits will continue to be able to work in Singapore during this period, with appropriate accommodation arrangements, MOH said.
Transport of all types of goods between Malaysia and Singapore will also be facilitated.
Malaysia is in the midst of a two-week shutdown after the country announced a movement control order to bar its citizens from going overseas and foreigners from entering the country. All businesses are also closed, except for those in essential services, until the end of the month.
"Discussions in the committee are ongoing," the ministry said in its press release.
POSSIBLE "CONSEQUENCES" FOR SINGAPOREANS STILL TRAVELLING
The latest restrictions come a day after Singapore confirmed its first deaths from the disease. Two patients – a 75-year-old Singaporean woman and a 64-year-old Indonesian man – died from complications due to COVID-19 on Saturday morning.
The woman, known as case 90, had a history of chronic heart disease and hypertension. She was linked to the cluster at The Life Church and Missions Singapore.
The second patient, known as case 212, was a 64-year-old Indonesian man with a history of heart disease.
Singapore also confirmed 47 new cases of the novel coronavirus on Saturday, taking the national total to 432.
They include 39 imported cases with travel history to Australia, Europe, North America, ASEAN and other parts of Asia. Of which, 33 are returning residents and long-term pass holders, while six are short-term visitors.
The remaining eight new cases were locally transmitted, authorities said in its daily update.
To reduce the risk of further local transmission, stricter measures were announced on Friday, including a suspension of all events and gatherings with 250 or more participants.
Operators of public venues, such as retail shops and food and beverage (F&B) outlets, also have to put in place precautionary measures to ensure separation of at least 1m between people.
The country also rolled out a new TraceTogether mobile application in a bid to speed up contact tracing efforts.
But the objective of keeping Singapore and Singaporeans safe "cannot be achieved with Government measures alone", said Mr Wong.
"We do need everyone to take responsibility, to step up and do their part and therefore we continue to encourage everyone to be very mindful, to stay vigilant."
Asked about Singaporeans that are continuing with their travel plans despite travel advisories being ramped up, Mr Wong said "there have to be consequences".
"If people are still choosing to travel despite our advisory and despite full knowledge of how serious the situation is, I don’t think we can allow such a situation to continue.
"So we are discussing and thinking through what additional measures will be needed," he said, noting that the specifics of these measures will be announced when ready.
"We don’t know the reason why they are doing (this) ... but we do not want to see a third wave of imported cases from returning Singaporeans.
"We are already having to digest this wave of returning Singaporeans now. I think if we have to experience third, fourth recurring waves of imported cases, it would be very challenging," he said.