SINGAPORE - Many more people are expected to be quarantined in efforts to prevent the spread of the Wuhan virus here, as the definition of those who pose a risk has been widened.
Currently, the only people placed under quarantine are 75 close contacts of the first four confirmed cases that the authorities have been able to reach.
But with tougher new measures kicking in, the quarantine will apply to about 2,000 people who were in Hubei in the past fortnight, if deemed to be a risk, or who carry passports issued there, as well as residents and long-term pass holders returning from Hubei.
They include some of the people from educational, childcare and eldercare facilities who, until Tuesday (Jan 28), would have been given leave of absence.
Quarantine is far more stringent than leave of absence as it comes under the Infectious Diseases Act. Anyone flouting the quarantine for the first time may be fined up to $10,000, jailed up to six months, or both. The penalty is higher for subsequent breaches.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who is co-chair of the multi-ministry committee overseeing the Wuhan virus crisis, said on Tuesday that the new measures are necessary as "it is clear that there is heightened risk from Hubei travellers".
He added that the virus is currently not spreading in the community, but there is a "real risk" of such spread if the situation is not contained.
To make it less onerous for them, residents here will be given the option of home quarantine if they have the facilities for it. This includes having a room and toilet facilities not shared with anyone else.
Those in home quarantine cannot physically interact with others living in the same premises or leave home. Spot checks - both by phone and in person - will be carried out to ensure that they abide by the restrictions.
Those who do not have such facilities at home may opt for government quarantine facilities.
The authorities said they would assist quarantined people who live alone and need to get groceries, for example.
The Government will also provide some financial help by giving self-employed people $100 for each day they are quarantined. The money goes to their employers if they are salaried, as the quarantine period will not come from their annual leave.
Should those placed under quarantine exhibit symptoms associated with the virus, they will need to be taken to a hospital and treated as suspect cases.
The Ministry of Health said the Government is footing the hospital bills for all suspected and confirmed cases since their illness is caused by an emerging disease.
Mr Wong on Tuesday night said on Facebook that it is "regrettable that some people are circulating falsehoods" on the $100 quarantine allowance, adding that the allowance is not new.
"We did it for Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) too," wrote Mr Wong.
"It’s given to Singapore-based employers to cover their employees under quarantine and to self-employed Singaporeans or permanent residents under quarantine. It’s not given to tourists who are quarantined. Our whole point is to help Singaporeans."