SINGAPORE: Singaporeans are advised to avoid non-essential travel to the South Korea's Daegu city and Cheongdo county as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases from the area continues to rise, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a public health travel advisory on Sunday (Feb 23).
Members of the public are also reminded to continue to exercise caution when travelling to the rest of South Korea.
South Korea on Sunday confirmed a total of 602 coronavirus cases, with five fatalities. More than half the cases are linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, while at least 110 are from Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo.
According to MOH, Daegu and Cheongdo have been designated by South Korea's government as “special care zones”, and measures have been put in place in these regions to reduce the risk of further transmission.
“In view of the heightened risk of transmission from travellers arriving from Daegu and Cheongdo, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce has assessed that it is prudent to take additional precautionary measures to limit the potential risk that travellers arriving from these affected regions pose to Singapore,” MOH said.
To do so, MOH announced that from Sunday, the definition of suspect cases would expand to include those with pneumonia or severe respiratory infection with breathlessness who have been to Daegu and/or Cheongdo within 14 days before the onset of symptoms.
Since Jan 29, all arriving passengers at Changi Airport have been subject to temperature screening. From Sunday, cases that meet the expanded definition will be referred to hospitals for further assessment.
“Officers will also look out for such travellers with respiratory symptoms at the aerobridges for flights coming from South Korea and at immigration checks," said MOH. "Travellers with recent travel history to Daegu and Cheongdo will be asked to identify themselves.”
Health Advisory Notices will be issued to all travellers arriving at Changi Airport from South Korea to advise them on the precautionary measures to take when travelling to or arriving from the affected regions.
President Moon Jae-in on Sunday said South Korea would raise its alert level on the new coronavirus to the "highest". He also urged officials not to hesitate from taking "unprecedented powerful measures" to contain the outbreak.
The previously announced travel advisory for Singaporeans to defer all travel to Hubei Province and all non-essential travel to Mainland China remains in place.
MOH said it will continue to monitor the situation closely. Once a case is confirmed, contact tracing will be initiated and MOH will implement strict isolation, quarantine, infection control and prevention measures to prevent further transmission.
READ: Singapore tourism to take 'significant hit' in 2020 due to coronavirus, up to 30% fewer visitors expected
MOH said all travellers are advised to monitor their health closely for two weeks upon return to Singapore. They should seek medical attention promptly if they feel unwell and should inform their doctor of their travel history.
If they have a fever or respiratory symptoms, they should wear a mask and call the clinic ahead of the visit.
Travellers and members of the public should also adopt the following precautions at all times:
- Avoid close contact with people who are unwell or showing symptoms of illness
- Observe good personal hygiene
- Practise frequent hand washing with soap (eg. before handling food or eating, after going to toilet, or when hands are dirtied by respiratory secretions after coughing or sneezing)
- Wear a mask if you have respiratory symptoms such as a cough or shortness of breath
- Cover your mouth with a tissue paper when coughing or sneezing, and dispose the soiled tissue paper in the rubbish bin immediately
- Seek medical attention promptly if you are feeling unwell
Given the evolving situation and ongoing investigations in South Korea, Singapore residents who need to travel to the affected areas are advised to regularly check MOH’s website for updates. Travellers are also advised to stay vigilant, monitor developments and heed the advice of the local authorities.
COUNTRIES BOLSTER VIGILANCE
Israel has issued an entry ban on South Koreans and refused to allow non-Israelis to disembark from a Korean Air plane on Saturday.
The US State Department on Saturday raised its travel advisory for South Korea, joining a handful of countries bolstering their vigilance after its rapid spike in the number of infections.
US citizens were asked to "exercise increased caution" when travelling to South Korea, where "sustained community spread" has been reported.
"Sustained community spread means that people in South Korea have been infected with the virus, but how or where they became infected is not known, and the spread is ongoing," the State Department said on its website.
Separately, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issued an "Alert Level 2" travel health notice, saying "older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel".
Britain has also advised its nationals "against all but essential travel to Daegu and Cheongdo".