Singaporeans, PRs who travel from permitted countries can tap subsidies, MediShield Life for COVID-19 hospital bill

Singaporeans, PRs who travel from permitted countries can tap subsidies, MediShield Life for COVID-19 hospital bill

Changi Airport tourists covid-19 masks
Travellers, wearing face masks at the departure hall of Changi International Airport in Singapore on Feb 27, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: All Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term pass holders who travel abroad under permitted travel arrangements with certain countries will be able to tap regular healthcare financing for their medical bills should they have symptoms of COVID-19 within 14 days of their return to Singapore.  

“This means that Singaporeans and PRs will be eligible for government subsidies and MediShield Life integrated shield plan coverage," said Minister for Health Gan Kim Yong on Thursday (Aug 6).  

“Long-term pass holders may tap on their prevailing financing arrangements, such as the foreign worker insurance. But any remaining co-payment will continue to be paid by the patient.”

This takes effect from Aug 7.

Currently, those who travel overseas against the travel advisories are required to pay for their own COVID-19 treatment in full should they have symptoms of the disease within 14 days of their return. 

But as Singapore gradually allows essential travel through various arrangements with certain countries, authorities have reviewed the charging policy for these travellers, Mr Gan said at a press conference by the multi-ministry task force on the pandemic.

The government subsidies and use of MediShield Life will apply to those who travel under green or fast lanes, as well as any permitted travel arrangement that may be implemented in the future, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).

"Short-term pass holders entering Singapore under permitted travel arrangements will remain responsible for their medical bills should they test positive for COVID-19," the ministry added.

READ: COVID-19: Most foreign workers to be able to return to work by end-August, says Lawrence Wong

The Government will continue to closely monitor the number of imported cases, he added.

Mr Gan noted that the pandemic in other parts of the world “continues to accelerate”, and some countries that managed to control the initial wave of COVID-19 infections are now facing a resurgence in cases.

“In Asia, there have been worrying uptick in some areas, including Hong Kong, India, Japan, and Vietnam. Many Singaporeans are understandably concerned about imported cases,” said Mr Gan. 

“But keeping our borders sealed is not a sustainable strategy, as many countries have also come to realise.” 

READ: Singapore reports 301 new COVID-19 cases, including 4 in the community

Singapore has “taken a cautious approach” to facilitate the return of Singaporeans, PRs, long-term pass holders and work pass holders who are employed here, said Mr Gan, pointing out that all travellers receive stay-home notices upon their arrival and are tested before the end of their confinement period.

“All of our recent imported cases so far have been isolated or placed on SHN (stay-home notice). The risk of transmission to the community therefore continues to be very low,” said Mr Gan. 

“But we will continue to monitor the imported cases very closely, as well as the global situation and adjust and update our border measures accordingly.”

READ: Most events should remain virtual for now, even as more COVID-19 restrictions are eased: Gan Kim Yong

Responding to a question on why travellers from Malaysia need only serve a stay-home notice of seven days - as compared with 14 days for those coming from other countries - Mr Gan said that Singapore takes into account the risk profile of the place a person travels from.

“We also take into account the mitigating measures that the other country, in this case Malaysia, has put in place," he said.

"So we take a holistic assessment of the risk of travellers coming to Singapore and on the basis of the risk, we will then determine what are the precaution measures that we need to put in place, specifically on the SHN period.” 

READ: Measures for Singapore-Malaysia travel include minimum 7-day stay-home notice, COVID-19 test

MOH’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak said the original 14-day stay-home notice was based on the maximum incubation period for the disease.  

After several reviews, MOH found that travellers who were symptomatic typically presented with symptoms within five to six days of entering Singapore, said Assoc Prof Mak.

“That allowed us then to think about considering the shortening of the duration of SHN for countries where the original prevalence in that country was low,” he added. 

The risk of missing a traveller - despite a shortened stay-home notice and then manifesting symptoms - becomes “quite low” with countries where the prevalence of COVID-19 is lower than in Singapore, said Assoc Prof Mak.

Malaysia reported 15 COVID-19 infections on Thursday, taking its tally to 9,038 COVID-19 cases.

Singapore reported 301 new cases on Thursday, taking its total number of infections to 54,555. The majority of the new cases are linked to foreign worker dormitories.

Watch the full press conference and subsequent Q&A session with journalists: 

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Source: CNA/hw(gs)

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