Wuhan virus: Work pass holders returning from mainland China must take 14-day leave of absence

A photo taken on Jan 22, 2020, shows a thermal scanner in use at Changi Airport Terminal 3. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Work pass holders who have travelled to mainland China recently will be required to go on a leave of absence when they return, as their employers prepare for the temporary shortage of workers with measures like hiring part-time help.

The Manpower Ministry will also reject all new work pass applications for workers from mainland China, it said in a statement on Friday (Jan 31).

The ministry did not set a date for when the ban will be lifted, but renewal applications for existing work pass holders will not be affected, it added.

Both measures - which expand on an earlier ban on new workers from Hubei province - kick in with immediate effect.

The ministry said that workers who have travelled to mainland China in the past two weeks and have been put on the 14-day leave of absence should stay at home and avoid social contact.

"They should avoid crowded places and refrain from attending social or public gatherings," it added.

"They should monitor their health closely, and seek medical attention immediately if they develop any fever or symptoms of acute respiratory illness such as cough or shortness of breath."

The ministry's statement follows a tightening on all travellers arriving from mainland China who had been there in the past 14 days announced on Friday (Jan 31). They will be barred from entry to or transit in Singapore.

Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term-pass holders, as well as work pass holders who are returning from China will be placed on a leave of absence of 14 days.

Mr Chee Teck Lee, chief executive of optics manufacturer Moveon Technologies, said that seven of his employees who are in China to celebrate the Chinese New Year with their families are currently facing trouble returning to Singapore, and some of them have had their flight tickets cancelled.

"We may have to hire part-time workers in the meantime. They may not be as competent and will need training, but it's better than not having anyone (on the operations line)," Mr Chee said.

Medical device manufacturer Racer Technology, which opened a new factory in Ningbo, China, two months ago, has stopped its Singapore staff who had come home to celebrate the Chinese New Year from returning to work in China.

Chief executive Willy Koh said that about 10 to 20 people, or 50 per cent of its staff in China, will not be flying back to Ningbo, given the developing Wuhan virus outbreak.

The Ningbo factory is due to reopen for operations on Monday (Feb 3), and Mr Koh said that his company has bought masks to ship to his employees there as they are facing a shortage.

Two of his employees who returned to Singapore on Jan 23 are on a 28-day leave of absence and working from home, Mr Koh noted, adding that most of them are marketing staff.

"I have 160 employees, and I can't afford for any of them to fall sick, so it's better to take precautions," he said.

Mr Kenneth Loo, chief operating officer of Straits Construction Group, said that the full impact of the new measures have yet to be ascertained as the company is also reliant on sub-contracted Chinese workers who may be affected by the expanded measures.

Fewer than 20 of his workers returned from China recently, he said.

But the firm had already taken some early precautions, such as instructing employees who had travelled to all parts of mainland China to go on a 14-day leave of absence, even before the measure was introduced by the authorities, Mr Loo said.

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