SINGAPORE: Singapore will not allow entry to visitors from South Korea’s Cheongdo county and Daegu city, which have been designated as special care zones after a spike of COVID-19 cases, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Tuesday (Feb 25).
The move will come into effect on Wednesday at 11.59pm, and applies to all new short-term visitors who have travelled to the two areas in the last 14 days, the ministry announced at a press conference.
South Korea has reported 977 confirmed cases as of Tuesday, a majority of which are linked to a religious sect in Daegu city, while more than 100 are linked to a Cheongdo hospital.
The rapidly evolving situation means travellers from these places pose a heightened risk to Singapore, authorities here said.
Returning Singapore residents and long-term pass holders with recent travel history to the two areas will be issued with a Stay-Home Notice, which requires them to remain home for 14-days after returning to Singapore.
This applies to Singaporeans, permanent residents and holders of work passes and permits, student’s passes, dependent’s passes and long-term visit passes.
The latest measure followed an earlier advisory by MOH to avoid non-essential travel to Cheongdo and Daegu announced on Sunday.
The ministry has also started treating as suspect COVID-19 cases patients who have been to Daegu or Cheongdo within 14 days of the onset of symptoms.
The multi-ministry taskforce dealing with COVID-19 stands ready to put in place further measures, said MOH, while the ministry will monitor the situation closely.
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RISK HIGHER IN THE TWO SOUTH KOREAN CITIES
At a press conference on Tuesday, Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the multi-ministry task force, said that that while the "headline number" of infections in South Korea are "very large" Singapore is starting travel restrictions on just these two cities because about 75 per cent of the cases are linked to a church cluster in Daegu and a hospital in Cheongdo.
These two cities are therefore of "higher risk", he said.
"If we start to see more unlinked cases emerging, not linked to these two clusters, in Seoul, in Busan, in some of the other hub cities in South Korea, where there are many travelers, then we will certainly update our risk assessment and we will at that time consider putting in place travel restrictions for the whole of the South Korea," he said.
The travel restrictions apply to the South Korean cities and not other cities like those in Italy because "the volume of travel " between South Korea and Singapore, he added.
Mr Wong said that Singapore has looked at the Italian government's measures, and described them as "strict and prompt".
He noted that cities in the Lombardy region where the most cases are under lockdown to avoid a wider spread.
"We are monitoring it very carefully because the Lombardy region in Italy is large. The city of Milan is in Lombardy and that is a big city and there are direct flights between Milan and Singapore," he said.
Another patient has also tested positive for the novel coronavirus, MOH said. Case 91 attended a service on Jan 19 at known cluster The Life Church and Missions Singapore, where two travellers from Wuhan had visited.
With the new case, authorities have established a link between this cluster and another cluster - the Grace Assembly of God church.
Explore our interactive: All the COVID-19 cases in Singapore and the clusters and links between them
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said at the press conference: "While we may have seen the number of new cases here in Singapore remains low each day over the last few days, we must be aware that the global situation remains dynamic and we cannot afford to be complacent."
The central province of Hubei, the epicentre of the outbreak, reported 68 new deaths, while in the provincial capital of Wuhan, 56 people died.
The National Health Commission also reported 508 new confirmed cases, with all but nine in hard-hit Hubei province. It brings the total number of confirmed cases in mainland China so far to 77,658.
COVID-19 has spread to more than 30 countries and territories, including in Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Thailand.
South Korea has been the hardest hit outside of China. Ten people have died from the virus.
Last week, the World Health Organization (WHO) said it was "very impressed" with Singapore's response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Singapore on Feb 7 raised the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) to Orange, prompting additional precautionary measures.
The country has also set aside S$800 million in Budget 2020 to support frontline agencies in their efforts to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, with the bulk allocated to the Ministry of Health.