The law on infectious diseases was updated last week to give the authorities a wider range of options to punish those who breach orders aimed at controlling the spread of the coronavirus.
Various offences under the Infectious Diseases Act (IDA) can now be compounded with the introduction of the Infectious Diseases (Composition of Offences) Regulations 2020, which means people who are guilty of less serious breaches can be fined instead of being charged in court.
The update, announced in the Government Gazette last Tuesday, allows the ministry to calibrate its response to each individual breach, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Health.
Among other things, those who have contact with infected people and do not obey orders to isolate themselves, or behave in ways that can put others at risk of infection, could face composition fines.
People who contravene an order to declare certain places as isolation areas can also be similarly fined.
But the discretion on whether to compound an offence lies with the director of medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, and "offenders who have committed serious breaches of the IDA, including those who deliberately flout quarantine orders, will remain liable for prosecution", said the ministry's spokesman.
The move came ahead of stricter measures, announced yesterday, that require Singapore residents and long-term pass holders with recent travel history to China to stay put at home for 14 days without going out, to curb the spread of the virus which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.
The new stay-home notice, which takes effect today at 11.59pm, is more stringent than the existing leave of absence, which lets people leave their homes briefly to, for instance, buy household supplies.
The coronavirus, or Sars-CoV-2, was added to the list of infectious diseases and dangerous infectious diseases under the IDA last month.
The ministry spokesman said the IDA is periodically reviewed and updated to ensure its relevance in preventing and managing infectious diseases, to safeguard the population from the risk of such diseases.