About 30,000 work pass holders who are Chinese nationals left Singapore over the Chinese New Year break and have not returned, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo yesterday.
These workers, who would be required to go on a 14-day leave of absence when they return to Singapore, make up less than 1 per cent of the workforce here, said Mrs Teo.
The figure does not include Singaporeans who have recently travelled to China who will also need to go on a leave of absence when they return. They can go back to school or work only after 14 days, provided they are well.
Mrs Teo, who was speaking to reporters during her visit to Oasia Hotel Downtown with Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, where they inspected precautionary measures after a hotel guest was found to have the Wuhan coronavirus, urged Singaporeans not to ostracise those on the mandated leave of absence.
She said landlords, dormitory operators or even co-tenants should not evict these people as "by and large they are not unwell".
The Government had previously said it has heard reports of this happening. "The reason we have introduced this leave of absence requirement is to take extra precautions, and this is to minimise social contact. But we must be mindful that as we take these precautions, we must be supportive of the people who are affected," she said.
Mr Chan also said at a community event that Singaporeans should not reject those who must go on a leave of absence.
"During the worst of the Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) crisis, the best of Singaporeans came through; we took care of each other, sent meals to those under quarantine, shared our supplies and medical resources - that's how we overcame the crisis together," he said.
Singapore has been taking measures to reduce the risk of imported cases of the Wuhan coronavirus, and of the pathogen spreading within the community here.
On Saturday, it began imposing stricter travel restrictions on visitors who have been to China in the past 14 days, barring them from entry or transit through Singapore.
Mrs Teo also said people who have been instructed to stay home should exercise personal responsibility and minimise social contact.
"If we are unwell and we show up, whether at restaurants or any other places where there are front-line workers, and we expect service from them, we could put them in an awkward position," she said.
While not as strict as a quarantine order, failing to adhere to a leave of absence could force the Government to take drastic measures, said Mrs Teo, as she reminded employers and workers alike to exercise responsibility.
Yesterday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam praised those who have stepped up to help efforts to curb the spread of the virus. Among them have been soldiers, who packed masks to be given to the public, and volunteers who distributed the masks.
But he called out a "small minority" who have not helped the situation by spreading fake news or anti-Chinese sentiments.
Mr Shanmugam said: "Really, we are bigger than this and our hearts are bigger than this, and we shouldn't come down to this level of xenophobia."
Citing the example of stories of landlords evicting tenants who are on home quarantine or leave of absence, he said: "You know they are on leave of absence or home quarantine so that the rest of Singapore, all of us, can be safe. So if they are tossed out onto the streets, where are they going to go?
"We have to avoid these sorts of irrational actions."