SINGAPORE: Singaporeans were advised on Wednesday (Mar 18) to defer all travel abroad with immediate effect amid a heightened risk of importing COVID-19 cases into Singapore, said the Ministry of Health (MOH).
In a press release, MOH said this supercedes the advisory issued on Sunday to defer all non-essential travel abroad. The expansion of the travel advisory is "to reduce the risk of Singaporeans being infected with the virus when abroad and spreading it to other Singaporeans when they return", the ministry added.
Singapore reported on Wednesday 47 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the total figure to 313. Of the new cases, 33 are imported cases.
Among the imported cases, 30 are returning Singapore residents who were infected overseas.
MOH also announced on Wednesday that all Singaporeans, permanent residents, long-term pass holders and short-term visitors entering Singapore from 11.59pm on Friday will be issued a 14-day stay-home notice (SHN).
For Singapore residents and long-term pass holders entering from the Hubei province in China, they will serve a 14-day quarantine.
All short-term visitors will have to provide proof of the place where they will serve the SHN, for example, a hotel booking covering the entire period or a place of residence that they or their family members own.
People under SHN will have to stay at their place of residence at all times for 14 days after entering Singapore.
"The existing measures which apply to all inbound travellers, such as requiring those who exhibit fever and/or other symptoms of respiratory illness to undergo a COVID-19 swab test at the checkpoints, will continue to apply," MOH said.
As announced previously, short-term visitors with recent travel history to mainland China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, South Korea and Spain are not allowed to enter or transit in Singapore.
MAJORITY OF NEW CASES SINGAPORE RESIDENTS
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong told a press conference that most of the new cases are imported and that the majority are Singaporeans and residents coming back from overseas.
"Fortunately we’ve been able to pick them up early, some even right at the airport, some shortly after they come home and they see a doctor, and we know that these cases have not gone on to spread to other people," Mr Wong added.
"But we cannot afford to take further risk if the number of these imported cases continue to rise. That is why we are imposing additional border controls and travel restrictions today."
For land crossings with Malaysia, restrictions are already imposed by Malaysia under its restricted movement order.
The Singapore-Malaysia Special Working Committee is discussing a "joint mitigation plan to ensure the safe and sustainable movement of people, goods and services between the two countries", Singapore's health ministry said, adding that more details will be announced when ready.
Mr Wong added that despite all these measures in place, Singaporeans have to still be mentally prepared that in the coming days, the number of cases will still go up.
"At this time, there are students in Europe, in the US, there are people working overseas, who are all wanting to come back ... We have to expect, given the way the virus is transmitting overseas, that some of the returning Singaporeans will also be infected," he said, adding that he does not think that the virus will go away with the advent of summer, though some have expressed that hope.
But the new measures can limit the spread of the virus in Singapore, he said.
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"Even if there are more cases amongst the returnees, we can isolate them, treat them and minimise the risks of the virus transmitting more broadly to other Singaporeans. That is our key objective," he said.
Mr Wong also urged anyone who has returned to Singapore from overseas even before 11.59pm on Friday to "do the responsible thing and consider just self-isolating" at home.
He added that the Ministry of Education (MOE) is expected to announce extra precautions for family members and children who have gone overseas during the March school holidays.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that the Government wants Singaporeans overseas to return home.
"For Singaporeans who are overseas, we do want them to come back even though there's a risk of infection ... to return home as soon as possible. For Singaporeans who are still here, the travel advisory is to encourage them to defer all travel," he said.
Explore our interactive: All the COVID-19 cases in Singapore and the clusters and links between them
"There has been a sharp increase in cases and widening spread across the world. To date, there are close to 200,000 COVID-19 cases across 159 countries, with more than 7,900 deaths," said MOH.
"Many countries have seen an exponential rise in cases recently, and more than 40,000 new cases have been reported in the past three days.
"Globally, the number of cases and deaths has surpassed those in China since the beginning of the outbreak.
"The World Health Organization has urged its member states to take urgent and aggressive measures to stop the transmission of COVID-19."