Singapore supportive of China, confident it can deal with Wuhan coronavirus: Shanmugam

Singapore supportive of China, confident it can deal with Wuhan coronavirus: Shanmugam

Tourists in masks at Jewel (2)
People are seen wearing protective face masks at Jewel Changi Airport (Photo: Gaya Chandramohan)

SINGAPORE: Singapore is confident that China can deal decisively with the Wuhan coronavirus and is supportive of the country in its fight against the disease, said Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Sunday (Feb 2).

"China has a large number of tools and resources and the entire focus of the nation, all its national resources, have been brought to bear on this issue," said Mr Shanmugam. "We are confident that they will be able to deal with it."

He added that others should be supportive of China's actions to fight the virus, which has infected more than 14,500 people and killed more than 300 worldwide.

"If we help China deal with this, I think the problem becomes smaller for everyone else."

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He also said that Singapore's widened travel restrictions, imposed from 11.59pm Saturday, are based on medical evidence.

"People who are affected by (the virus) may be asymptomatic for 14 days and we know it has spread in other parts of China ... if it comes, the spread in Singapore, with such an intense density of population, can be quite substantial."

The travel restrictions bar all new visitors who have been in China in the last 14 days from entering Singapore  – regardless of nationality. These visitors will also not be allowed to transit in Singapore.  

The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has barred 15 people from entering the country since the start of the travel restrictions.

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As of 1pm on Sunday, those restricted included five with Chinese passports, five with Indian passports, as well as two from the United States, one from Spain, one from Britain and a Malaysian, the ICA said.

Noting only a third of those turned away were from China, Minister for Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam said: “The restrictions are not based on passports nor are they based on nationality. It is geographical, in the sense that if you’ve been in China, whoever you are, then the restrictions kick in."

Mr Shanmugam said this was necessary as Singapore’s small size and dense population makes it vulnerable to the spread of disease. 

He noted Singapore’s medical and quarantine facilities could be “easily stretched” if the virus spreads here. 

“Our primary duty is to make sure Singaporeans are safe.”

READ: No new cases of Wuhan coronavirus in Singapore, total remains at 18

In a Facebook post on Sunday, the Chinese Embassy in Singapore criticised such restrictions put in place by a number of countries, such as the United States and Australia.

It noted World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom - who had last Thursday declared the coronavirus a global health emergency - had also praised China for its efforts and did not recommend limiting either trade or travel to China.

Shanmugam at Changi Airport Feb 2 (3)
Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam visits Changi Airport on Sunday, Feb 2. (Photo: Ahmad Zhaki Abdullah)

The virus should not be a reason to discriminate against Chinese nationals, said Mr Shanmugam, adding he had noticed a number of "racially tinged posts" online.

"Really we shouldn't come down to this level of xenophobia," he said, though he noted such sentiments belonged to a "small minority". 

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"Our society has shown itself to be calm, confident, and they've shown generosity of spirit in their actions and words, that was very good to see."

Mr Shanmugam was speaking to the media during a visit to Changi Airport, where he was shown measures such as thermal screenings of passengers, that have been put into place following the outbreak of the Wuhan coronavirus.

The ICA also noted the policy - which disallows entry to new visitors with recent travel history to mainland China within the last 14 days, regardless of nationality - does not apply to Chinese nationals who are already in the country. 

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Social visit passes for these people will be extended based on prevailing guidelines, and if approved will be extended by 30 days. 

Further extensions will be considered based on these guidelines as well as other circumstances, the ICA said. 

As of Saturday, more than 50 applications to extend the social visit passes of Chinese passport holders had been approved since the announcement of the suspension of new visas on Jan 31, the ICA said. 

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Source: CNA/nr(hm)

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