Singapore confident China can tackle outbreak decisively: Shanmugam

Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam observing the temperature screening procedures at the arrival hall of Changi Airport's Terminal 1 yesterday. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam observing the temperature screening procedures at the arrival hall of Changi Airport's Terminal 1 yesterday. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Singapore is confident that China will be able to deal decisively with the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

He told reporters that Beijing had brought its national resources to bear on the issue, and others should be supportive of what China is doing and help it. "If we help China deal with this, the problem becomes smaller for everyone else," he said.

His comments come a day after Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said China was doing all it can to contain the spread of the virus and that Singapore's efforts will complement this. China has also imposed travel restrictions on its end, preventing the departure of outbound tour groups.

Mr Shanmugam was at Changi Airport to meet Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) officers, after Singapore's travel restrictions took effect on Saturday.

He said Singapore introduced the travel restrictions based on medical evidence, and given its small size and population density, especially as those who are affected may show no symptoms for 14 days.

Each country is in a different situation, he added, saying that given Singapore's size, "the spread can be very fast if we are not careful".

"We know (the virus) has spread in other parts of China. How much, we don't know. People could come and... the spread in Singapore, with such an intense density of population, can be quite substantial," he said. "I'm sure the Chinese government doesn't want it, and we don't want it. Our primary duty is to make sure Singaporeans are safe. Our quarantine facilities are limited, our medical facilities can be easily stretched."

He emphasised that the travel restrictions are not directed at any nationality, but are based on geographical considerations.

"If you've been in China, whoever you are, then the restrictions kick in," he said, adding that while 15 persons were turned away as of 1pm yesterday, only one-third or five were Chinese passport holders.

"It is based on science, it is not nationality; and it is based on our own situation and our limited resources, and the possibility that the spread can be quite fast in a place like Singapore," he said.

The Government announced on Friday that all travellers who have been in China within the past 14 days will be barred from entry or transit. Returning Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term pass holders will be placed on a leave of absence of 14 days.


ICA said the others turned away comprised one Spaniard, one Briton, one Malaysian, two Americans and five Indian passport holders.

It also said the restrictions do not apply to Chinese nationals who are already in Singapore. For Chinese nationals who want to extend their social visit passes (SVPs), their applications will be assessed based on prevailing guidelines, it said.

ICA added that as of Saturday, it had approved more than 50 applications from Chinese passport holders to extend their SVPs since the announcement of suspensions of new visas on Friday.

"We are agreeable to extend their stay because, for example, a Chinese visitor who had been granted entry into Singapore earlier, and was granted 30 days' stay, when they apply for an extension, would have been in Singapore for more than 14 days, and there is therefore less risk that they would be carrying the 2019-nCoV, as compared to others who may still be in China," ICA said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 03, 2020, with the headline 'S'pore confident China can tackle outbreak decisively: Shanmugam'. Print Edition | Subscribe