More than 12,000 travellers from higher-risk countries or regions entered Singapore without pre-departure tests from Nov 18 to Dec 27 last year, Education Minister Lawrence Wong said yesterday.
These are mostly Singapore citizens and permanent residents (PRs).
So far, around 100 - or 0.85 per cent of these travellers - have tested positive for Covid-19. None of these cases has resulted in local transmission, said Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19.
While Singapore has required travellers from higher-risk places to take a pre-departure test since Nov 18 last year, this rule does not apply to citizens and PRs.
"We do not want to place additional barriers for them to return home if they have urgent need to do so," Mr Wong said.
As paediatric testing services may not be so easily available in some countries, those aged six and below are also exempted from such tests, he added.
"But through the stay-home notice, we ensure that community transmission risks for these travellers are minimised," said Mr Wong in response to a question by Workers' Party's Mr Gerald Giam (Aljunied GRC) on how the Government manages the risk of incoming arrivals.
Mr Giam asked if there were any travellers in the 12,000 who were not Singaporeans, PRs or children under six. He also asked if any of the 100 or so people who later tested positive had not taken pre-departure tests even though they were supposed to do so.
Mr Wong said he has not looked at the data in great detail. But he stressed that travellers from such high-risk territories arriving in Singapore have to serve the stay-home notice, and cases that emerge are isolated and ring-fenced so that they do not leak into the local community.
While Singapore has been able to bring the virus situation under control and enter phase three of its reopening on Dec 28, the country cannot let its guard down, he said.
He noted that Covid-19 cases continue to climb in many countries.
Number of travellers from higher-risk countries or regions who entered Singapore without pre-departure tests from Nov 18 to Dec 27 last year.
Percentage of these travellers who have tested positive for Covid-19.
In Singapore, there have been two family clusters due to marine workers who had been infected on board ships and spread the virus to their family members.
"It is a sobering reminder of how easily new infection clusters can break out," said Mr Wong, stressing that Singapore must continue to stay alert.
"The emergence of new viral strains that may be more infectious, such as the B.1.1.7 variant, is indeed very worrying," he said.
Singapore will tighten border restrictions where necessary and practical to limit the risk of imported cases, he said.
For instance, additional testing requirements have been introduced for travellers from Britain and South Africa, where the new strain has been circulating.
The testing regime and safe management measures for those working in the aviation and maritime sectors have also been tightened.
Singapore takes a calculated risk-based approach in how it manages its borders, Mr Wong noted.
Special travel arrangements with certain countries and territories have been set up to facilitate essential business and official travel, with the number of travellers controlled tightly. Travellers also have to stick to a controlled itinerary and strictly limit interactions with the wider community.
Responding to Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC), he cited how about 500 travellers have arrived from China through the fast lane that was established between Singapore and six provinces and municipalities in China last June.
On a daily basis, a far larger number of travellers entering Singapore are returning Singaporeans, PRs and long-term pass holders, he said. There are also new migrant workers - mostly construction workers and foreign domestic workers.
"We need them to build our homes and infrastructure, and to support the caregiving needs of our families," said Mr Wong.
The entry of returning residents and essential workers is allowed on a controlled basis, he added, with those from higher-risk nations placed on a 14-day stay-home notice at dedicated facilities and tested at the end of their quarantine.