Curbs on visitors from South Africa into S'pore after reports of more contagious Covid-19 strain: MOH

The new measures on travellers who passed through South Africa in the past 14 days will take effect from 11.59pm on Jan 3, 2021.
The new measures on travellers who passed through South Africa in the past 14 days will take effect from 11.59pm on Jan 3, 2021.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Foreign travellers who have recently visited South Africa will be barred from entering Singapore from midnight owing to the risk of spreading a new coronavirus strain.

Long-term pass holders and short-term visitors who have been there in the past 14 days will not be allowed to enter or transit through the Republic.

The measure, which starts from 11.59pm today, follows news of a potentially more contagious strain circulating in South Africa.

According to various reports, the strain has made it overseas to countries such as Finland, Japan and Switzerland. 

“To reduce the risk of spread to Singapore, we are putting in place new border restrictions for travellers from South Africa for further precaution,” said the Ministry of Health. It added that the restriction would also apply to those who had obtained prior approval to enter Singapore.

Singaporeans and permanent residents returning from South Africa are allowed entry on condition that they are tested on arrival, and again towards the end of their 14-day stay-home notice (SHN). 

The measure follows Singapore’s decision to tighten restrictions on travellers coming from Britain because of the strain detected there. 
Since 11.59pm on Dec 23, all long-term pass holders and short-term visitors who had travelled to Britain within the last 14 days have not been allowed to enter or transit through Singapore. 

Singapore reported its first case of the new strain from Britain on the same day restrictions were introduced. The patient was a 17-year-old girl who had been studying in Britain. 

The ban also applies to all those who had obtained prior approval for entry into Singapore.

At the time, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said of the new coronavirus variant in Britain: “We are concerned about the new strain.

“The preliminary assessment is that it is 70 per cent more infectious, which is significant, and therefore we think it is prudent to stop all incoming travellers from the UK during this period until we are able to learn more about this new strain of the virus.”

Travellers from South Africa were previously required to serve a 14-day SHN.

From tomorrow, Singapore citizens and permanent residents returning from South Africa will also need to take a Covid-19 polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test on arrival in Singapore at the start of their SHN. These test requirements do not apply to those only transiting through Singapore.

To expedite their Covid-19 PCR test at the airport, travellers are encouraged to register and pre-pay for their arrival test before departing for Singapore, added the Health Ministry.

It said: “While the strain has been suggested to be more transmissible, there is currently insufficient evidence to determine if this strain is associated with any change in disease severity, antibody response or vaccine efficacy. These aspects are being investigated.”

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published last Wednesday, principal medical scientist Jinal Bhiman of the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg said that the variant is unlikely to be playing a large role in South Africa’s coronavirus spike.

Instead, it seems likely that it is part of a “perfect storm”, in which the emergence of the variant has coincided with the country’s main summer holiday.

While the degree of danger remains uncertain, Singapore is taking no chances. The restrictions will be in place until further notice, said the Ministry of Health.


How restrictions vary by country

Singapore is using a tiered system for entry into the Republic, depending on the severity of the coronavirus spread in each country or territory. Here is a breakdown of the restrictions for travellers who have visited these territories in the past 14 days.

General rules

For all countries without specific restrictions, citizens, permanent residents, long-term pass holders and in-principle approval (IPA) holders are allowed entry into Singapore, while short-term visitors are not - except with a valid approval letter.

Citizens and permanent residents are required to serve their 14-day stay-home notice (SHN) at dedicated facilities and have a Covid-19 swab test during their SHN period.

Long-term pass holders and IPA holders are required to have a negative Covid-19 swab test taken no more than 72 hours before departure to be allowed entry. They are also required to serve their 14-day SHN at a dedicated facility and to have another swab test during that period.

Territories with minimal restrictions

• Australia (excluding New South Wales)

• Brunei

• Mainland China

• New Zealand

• Taiwan

• Vietnam

Citizens and permanent residents are allowed entry without the need to serve an SHN, but must take a swab test on arrival and self-isolate while waiting for results.

The same restrictions apply for long-term pass holders, IPA holders and short-term visitors using an air travel pass.

Territories from which entry is allowed with SHN at home

• Macau

• New South Wales, Australia Citizens, long-term pass holders, IPA holders and short-term visitors are allowed entry, provided they serve a seven-day SHN at their own accommodation and take a swab test during their SHN. The exception: Air travel pass holders from New South Wales have not been allowed into Singapore since Dec 23.

Countries with the most severe restrictions

• United Kingdom

• South Africa

Only citizens and permanent residents are allowed entry from these territories.

They must have a swab test on arrival and during their 14-day SHN at a dedicated facility.