Singaporeans need to take advice not to travel very seriously, but if they still insist on doing so, they must take responsibility for their actions, said the authorities yesterday.
"We have already put out the advisory to defer non-essential travel, and we would call on everyone to comply with this advisory and defer your travel plans," said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force set up to deal with the coronavirus.
"It puts everyone at risk; you put yourself at risk, and you put your family members and the people around you at risk," he said at a press conference, in his most strongly worded statements on the virus to date.
"We would ask Singaporeans and residents to really think through before you make any travel plans... Yes, we're not stopping people from travelling, we're not locking our borders and stopping people from travelling, but please, we encourage and urge people to defer all travel at this particular juncture."
He pointed out that the majority of imported cases - which form the bulk of recent Covid-19 cases - are Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term pass holders who had returned from overseas.
People who insist on proceeding with non-essential travel will have to take their own leave, should they need to comply with a stay-home notice for 14 days after returning.
"It only takes one or two cases to go out of the containment in order for this to spread very widely," Mr Wong stressed.
Since Sunday, 37 out of 54 coronavirus cases in Singapore were imported ones. As of yesterday, Singapore had 266 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with no deaths so far.
In a Facebook post yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the flow of goods and cargo between Singapore and Malaysia, including food supplies, will continue.
But Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, co-chairman of the task force, reiterated that fatalities are almost inevitable. The Covid-19 statistical mortality rate is 2 to 3 per cent, and patients in the intensive care unit were all in very critical condition, he said.
"We are monitoring the patients and healthcare workers are doing all they can so that they can recover as soon as possible. But at some point in time, we do expect to see a fatality in Singapore as well."
Mr Wong also said the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been continuing to advise countries to not give up on containment, as the coronavirus could become "a human tragedy that we will not have seen before in modern history".
"That is the magnitude of this crisis. So the WHO is right to call on all countries to double down on containment - don't give up on containment so easily, doesn't have to go to mitigation later - and both can work hand in hand and both can be pursued in parallel."
He added that effort needed at a global level has now gone beyond public health coordination to economic policies. "Because we do need to ensure that while we address the public health emergency, attention and global effort are also needed to tackle a growing economic crisis."
Lim Min Zhang and Cheryl Teh