Singapore takes unprecedented step to bar all short-term visitors

Borders to be tightened amid rapidly escalating virus situation around world: Lawrence Wong

In a photo taken on Feb 14, 2020, people wearing masks shop in the transit area of Changi Airport Terminal 3. PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore will significantly tighten its borders from 11.59pm today, with all short-term visitors no longer allowed to enter or transit through the country, in a move to reduce the risk of importing coronavirus cases.

Work pass holders and their dependants will be allowed to return to Singapore only if they are employed in sectors that provide essential services such as healthcare and transport.

This will also kick in at 11.59pm today, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement yesterday.

The measures were announced a day after two patients - a 75-year-old Singaporean woman and a 64-year-old Indonesian man - died of complications due to Covid-19 infection. They were the first deaths the Republic has seen in the outbreak.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said at a briefing yesterday morning that the measures to "significantly tighten" Singapore's borders were taken in view of the rapidly escalating Covid-19 outbreak around the world.

To date, there are more than 319,000 Covid-19 cases worldwide and around 13,700 deaths.

Previously, except for a handful of countries, short-term visitors from elsewhere were allowed to come into Singapore but were issued a 14-day stay-home notice (SHN) upon arrival.

This meant, however, that resources were being expended to serve and enforce SHNs on them, and if they fell ill, to provide them with medical treatment, said Mr Wong. Last Saturday, there were still 533 short-term visitors arriving.

MOH said that in Singapore, almost 80 per cent of new Covid-19 cases over the past three days were imported, most of them Singapore residents and long-term pass holders returning from abroad.

There were 23 new cases confirmed as of noon yesterday, with 18 of them imported. This brings the total number of cases to 455, of which 144 have fully recovered.

As previously announced, all returning Singapore citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders will continue to be issued a 14-day SHN.

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Also, Malaysians with Singapore work permits can continue to work here during this period, with accommodation arrangements.

Transport of goods between both countries will also be facilitated, the Singapore-Malaysia Special Working Committee has agreed.

Yesterday, Mr Wong said the border restrictions were very significant moves, especially for a small open economy like Singapore, which has always been connected to the world. "But this is an unprecedented crisis," he said.

On how long these measures will remain in place, he said: "I can't say at this stage.

"It depends on how long the outbreak is going to continue in Europe and America, which are now the new epicentres for the virus outbreak. It (also) depends on how long more we will see returning Singaporeans coming back."

Mr Wong also warned that the Government is considering measures against those who choose to travel overseas despite the border control measures.

Transport economist Walter Theseira said the tightening of borders will not have much of an additional impact on Singapore's aviation and tourism sectors, given that there is almost no demand for air travel worldwide due to the outbreak.

He added: "If we did open our borders fully tomorrow, I think about the only change would be, anyone who has an excuse to come here to hunker down would, but you wouldn't be getting tourists or business travellers."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 23, 2020, with the headline Singapore takes unprecedented step to bar all short-term visitors. Subscribe