SINGAPORE: Authorities will stop entry or transit for new visitors who have travelled to Hubei in the last 14 days, as well as holders of Chinese passports issued in Hubei, as Singapore steps up measures against the spread of the Wuhan virus.
The restriction will start at noon on Wednesday (Jan 29), the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Tuesday as it confirmed two new cases, bringing the tally up to seven.
With immediate effect, there will be a suspension on new visas being issued for holders of Chinese passports issued in Hubei, as well as previously issued short-term visas and multiple-visit visas.
The provision of visa-free transit facilities for such travellers is also suspended.
During a media briefing on Tuesday, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) said that visitors who arrive in Singapore with a visa that has been suspended will be asked to go back and will have to make their own arrangements to do so.
The rule applies to all checkpoints, said ICA, adding that those who travel without a valid visa by coach into Singapore from Johor Bahru will be turned back to Malaysia.
Airlines have been informed of these measures, ICA said.
MOH said that airlines have a part to play as well, as they are expected to inform passengers of these measures.
"Then it becomes the decision of the passenger whether or not to proceed to fly and potentially be subjected to quarantine orders or change travel plans," said MOH.
Those who arrive without a valid visa and show symptoms will be attended to, the ministry said.
At least 130 people have died from the virus in China, and more than 5,000 people have been infected across the nation.
Authorities have started to contact an estimated 2,000 people already in Singapore with recent Hubei travel history or Chinese nationals with Hubei passports. About 1,000 of them are on short-term visas.
Those assessed to be of "higher risk" - including those who had contact with someone infected with the virus or visited hospitals in mainland China - will be quarantined.
The quarantine policy will also include returning Singapore residents and long-term pass holders, who have travelled to Hubei in the last 14 days or hold Chinese passports issued in Hubei.
The quarantine orders have legal force, with penalties for non-compliance, MOH said. Those who do not comply with quarantine orders face a maximum fine of S$10,000 and up to six months in jail.
HELP FOR THOSE QUARANTINED
Speaking to reporters after the media briefing, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said that Singaporeans and Permanent Residents (PRs) who are quarantined will receive S$100 a day.
Mr Wong, who is the co-chair of a multi-ministry task force set up to handle the Wuhan virus situation, was responding to a question about the kind of assistance offered to those whose livelihoods would be affected by the quarantine restrictions.
"It (the allowance) will be given to the employer for those working. It will be given to the individual for those who are self-employed," Mr Wong said.
He added that the allowance is just one measure and that the Government is looking at other potential economic measures to help those who are affected, vulnerable groups as well as affected sectors of the economy.
"We will see what else needs to be done," he said.
In a Facebook post late on Tuesday night, Mr Wong said that the quarantine allowance itself was not a new thing, adding the allowance will not be given to tourists who are quarantined.
"It is regrettable that some people are circulating falsehoods on this. Quarantine allowance is not new," he said.
"We did it for SARS too. It’s given to Singapore-based employers to cover their employees under quarantine and to self-employed Singaporeans/PRs under quarantine.
He added: It’s not given to tourists who are quarantined. Our whole point is to help Singaporeans."
Those who need to be quarantined will be assessed to see if they can be quarantined at home. This requires them to have their own room and toilet so as not to mingle with other members of the household. If home quarantine is not possible, they will be isolated at a Government Quarantine Facility.
People placed under quarantine will not be allowed to leave their homes for two weeks. Checks will be done on them through methods such as home visits and phone calls, said MOH. These checks will be conducted by quarantine "agents" authorised by MOH.
MOH said it will assess those under quarantine for needs such as food items and will tie up with other ministries to help where needed.
INFECTION AMONG CHINESE FROM HUBEI "ACCELERATING"
The "enhanced measures" were put in place as the trend of infection among Chinese nationals from Hubei is "accelerating", with three new cases were confirmed in the past 24 hours, said MOH.
So far, all confirmed cases in Singapore are Chinese nationals from Hubei, similar to trends elsewhere, added MOH.
The fact that 95 per cent of confirmed cases in Chinese cities were recently in Hubei also confirms that the infection has spread most widely in the province.
While there is currently no evidence of community spread in Singapore, this presents a "heightened risk" to Singapore, the ministry said.
"We are trying to contain the cases presented, but this whole situation, the increase in the number of cases, the sharp increase globally especially in China and Hubei, and the increasing numbers we have seen present a heightened risk to Singapore," said MOH.
The ministry added that the confirmed cases in Singapore arrived slightly before or after Jan 20 and many of them developed symptoms a few days ago.
"We don't know how many of these travellers may still be incubating the disease and may develop the disease in the coming days," MOH said.
There is a risk and the risk is real, Mr Wong said. The measures were not a "knee-jerk" reaction, he said.
Mr Wong said: "We looked at the data, we looked at the evidence and we decided that there is sufficient evidence of a real risk to Singaporeans, a real risk of this creating community spread of the virus within Singapore, and therefore we have to take action."
On Monday, the Singapore Government announced a new set of measures designed to contain the virus, including enhanced temperature screening and compulsory leave of absence for students and teachers returning from China.
Mr Wong said whatever measures the Government is taking now are specific to the risk in Hubei, but he cautioned that the situation might change.
"You can never tell if it goes beyond Hubei. Then certainly, the measures that we have in place have to be updated and applied to other cities, other provinces, where we see community spread of the virus," he said.
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Editor's note: A quote from ICA has been removed from this story as it was not reported in the correct context.