SINGAPORE - There are now 38,000 people who are serving out stay-home notices, and their numbers will rise as more Singaporeans return from abroad, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said on Wednesday (March 25).
And with more lockdowns due to the coronavirus situation overseas, more Singaporeans may want to return, he said, adding that Singapore has to be prepared for more imported Covid-19 cases given the large numbers of returnees.
Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the coronavirus outbreak, was delivering a ministerial statement in Parliament in which he outlined the thinking behind why border controls and travel restrictions were progressively tightened based on the rapidly changing global situation.
This week, Singapore decided to disallow short-term visitors, such as tourists and businessmen, from entering or transiting. Returning work pass holders were also barred from entering, unless they were providing essential services like healthcare and transport.
Mr Wong said the Government took this significant move because Covid-19 is an unprecedented crisis that requires the Government to move decisively to keep Singapore's borders safe.
The Government's key objective in fighting the virus is also to focus the country's resources on the large number of Singaporeans returning from overseas, he added.
Noting that there are more than 200,000 Singaporeans currently overseas, Mr Wong said the Government needs to concentrate its resources on those Singaporeans who want to come back as more countries go into lockdown mode.
The numbers are significant, with about 1,200 Singapore residents returning from the United Kingdom and United States every day.
Besides identifying those with symptoms at the airport, the Government is ramping up testing capacity to test as many as possible, he said.
But tests alone are inadequate, given that someone who tested negative at the point of entry into Singapore may simply be incubating the virus, added Mr Wong.
This is why it is important to also isolate returnees, all of whom have to serve a 14-day stay-home notice (SHN). This means they have to remain in their place of residence, and avoid contact with others in the same household.
Mr Wong noted that measures like monitoring and enforcing the SHNs are a "huge operational and logistical undertaking", but the Government intends to continue with tough enforcement for both SHN and quarantine cases.
Those who breach the requirements will be prosecuted under the Infectious Diseases Act and face a fine of up to $10,000 and can be jailed up to six months.
The growing number of locally transmitted cases, especially ones unlinked to earlier cases, also call for a "whole range of additional public health measures to slow down the spread of the virus", said Mr Wong.