Wuhan virus: Increased border checks, leave of absence among new counter-measures

Wuhan virus: Increased border checks, leave of absence among new counter-measures

A new set of stringent measures will be introduced in Singapore's efforts to contain the Wuhan coronavirus, a newly formed multi-ministry task force announced on Monday (Jan 27). Cheryl Goh with more. 

SINGAPORE: A new set of stringent measures will be introduced in Singapore's efforts to contain the Wuhan coronavirus, a newly formed multi-ministry task force announced on Monday (Jan 27).

The task force is co-chaired by Health Minister Gan Kim Yong and National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

Among other measures, Mr Wong announced at a media conference that people should defer all non-essential travel to mainland China, an extension from an earlier advisory to defer all travel to Hubei.

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"We are doing this now because of the latest developments in China which the China government itself has described as grave and they have also said the virus is getting stronger and infections will continue to rise," said Mr Wong.

Given Singapore's status as an international transport hub, Mr Wong said this extended travel advisory is a necessary safeguard against further spread of the virus.

ENHANCED TEMPERATURE SCREENING

Authorities will also strengthen border measures by implementing temperature screening for all incoming flights by Wednesday, Mr Wong said. 

Thermal scanners will be deployed at the piers of the airport to cover all incoming flights, he added.

Currently, temperature screening is only conducted for passengers on flights from China at air checkpoints.

Temperature screening will continue at land checkpoints for bus, car and train arrivals and at sea checkpoints.

There will also be additional attention given to flights from mainland China at the aerobridge. These include visual identification of unwell travellers for evaluation by the medical team. 

Travellers deemed unwell with fever or respiratory symptoms, or have relevant travel history to Hubei, will be referred to nursing stations. 

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) will also check passengers with passports issued in Hubei.

Such passengers will be referred for medical attention to ensure that they are well, and to obtain their contact details to expedite subsequent contact tracing if required.

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MEASURES FOR WORKFORCE, STUDENTS

There will also be "extra precautions" taken for the workforce and students and teachers returning from mainland China, Mr Wong said.

For students and school employees returning from China, they will be given a leave of absence for 14 days to minimise close contact with others. 

The minister said organisations have been advised to collect health and travel declarations from employees returning from mainland China from Tuesday. 

"We are doing this now, we are getting ready now because we fully expect more to come back after the Chinese New Year holidays," he added.

More stringent precautions are in place for organisations with staff who have close contact and sustained interactions with vulnerable populations. These include pre-schools and healthcare and eldercare facilities.

Employers in these sectors will have to issue a leave of absence for 14 days upon their workers' return to Singapore from mainland China.

"We will put this measure in place for all government-operated and government-funded entities in these three sectors. For private employers, the relevant government agencies will be following up with them to get this measure implemented," said Mr Wong.

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The general workforce is recommended to follow these measures as well. Employers may adopt additional precautionary measures if they choose to do so.

Mr Wong said: "We have no evidence that there is community spread of the virus in Singapore. But it may happen. And if it does we stand ready to take additional measures.

"I want to assure Singaporeans that we will do everything we can to protect Singaporeans and Singapore, but this does not mean overreacting or worse, turning xenophobic. We must be proactive and rational in our response and base our actions on the available evidence and data," the minister added.

The most important defence against the virus is still at the individual level, he said, adding that it is not enough for the Government to act alone.

READ: Wuhan virus in Singapore - What can you do?

Wuhan virus protecting yourself graphic

Mr Wong said he is unable to give a figure yet on the number of individuals who have travelled to Singapore after visiting Hubei province and remained here before China's travel restrictions came into force.

"These need not only be China nationals. There will be Singaporeans, people from other nationalities," he said, adding that authorities are currently reaching out to them.

"Some of them would have left already. And so we are contacting them to make sure that they are in good health, and if they show symptoms, immediately report to the doctor and monitor their status.

"We will provide an update on this in due course."


READ: NUS, NTU, SMU hostels to be used as quarantine facilities for Wuhan virus

Singapore has so far confirmed four cases of the SARS-like virus - the fourth was announced early Sunday morning.

The first case of the novel coronavirus in Singapore was announced on Thursday, while two cases were confirmed on Friday.

Contact tracing has been activated for confirmed cases and as a precautionary step, government quarantine facilities have been set up to house close contacts who are well.

The Ministry of Health said there were no new confirmed cases of the Wuhan virus in Singapore as of noon on Sunday, adding that it has been notified of 92 suspected cases in total.

Of the 92 people, 46 have tested negative for the coronavirus. Test results for the remaining 42 people are pending.

MORE: Our coverage on the Wuhan virus and its developments

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Source: CNA/mn

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