Wuhan virus: Singapore to impose 14 days leave of absence for those in schools, healthcare and eldercare who travelled to China

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A 14-day leave of absence will be imposed for students and workers in schools, healthcare and eldercare, upon their return to Singapore from China - one of the measures by Singapore's multi-ministry task force to curb the spread of the Wuhan virus.
(From left) Communications and Information Minister S. Iswaran, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung at the press conference, on Jan 27, 2020.

SINGAPORE - With the death toll from the Wuhan virus jumping, and over 2,000 people infected so far, Singapore's multi-ministry task force set up to fight the infectious disease on all fronts here is implementing new measures, from compulsory leave for some people returning from China, to enhanced screening and checks, in efforts to prevent the virus from taking hold in the country.

For one thing, Singaporeans are now advised to avoid non-essential travel to mainland China.

And from Wednesday (Jan 29), temperature screening at airports will cover all incoming flights, with additional scrutiny on all flights from mainland China, and checks on all passengers with Hubei passports.

There are also measures in place for workers and students returning from mainland China.

Individuals with travel history to China in the last 14 days will have to give health and travel declarations to their respective organisations, and do health monitoring with temperature checks twice a day for 14 days from their return.

People with close contact with vulnerable populations will have 14 days compulsory leave of absence upon return to Singapore, particularly those working in pre-schools, healthcare and the eldercare sectors.

This is expected to affect an estimated 800 students returning from China from around mid-January, who will be asked to stay at home.

At a press conference attended by several fourth-generation ministers on Monday (Jan 27) morning, taskforce co-chair, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, stressed that the Government would spare no effort to keep Singaporeans safe.

Measures had been stepped up progressively to reduce risk of importation, including temperature monitoring, enhanced border controls and travel advisories.

Doctors were on high alert, he added, noting that there was currently no evidence of community spread in Singapore.

"The situation is rapidly evolving, he said.

"We will institute more measures if necessary."

Passengers arriving at Changi Airport Terminal 3 from a Hangzhou flight going through a thermal scanner, on Jan 22, 2020. PHOTO: ST FILE

The tally of confirmed deaths from China's viral outbreak has risen to 80, with authorities in central Hubei province on Monday (Jan 27) reporting 24 new fatalities and 371 new cases.

The latest figures from Hubei, the epicentre of the contagion, would put the nationwide total of confirmed infections at more than 2,300, based on figures previously released by the central government.

Based on fatalities reported, the figures remain much lower for Wuhan virus than for Sars, at about 3 per cent currently, although this rate is moving every day.

In comparison, Sars, which swept across the world in 2003, infected over 8,000 people, killing around 800 of them.

So far, 66 people have been quarantined in Singapore, either in their homes, if they are Singaporean, or at allocated government facilities such as chalets and university hostels, which can accommodate about 1,000 people.

Touching on students who had to go on a leave of absence, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung stressed on Monday that it was not an extended holiday for them.

"We will support their learning... teachers will reach out, they can catch up on lessons at home," he said.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo emphasised the important role employers played in keeping workers safe, by familiarising themselves with advisories being issued and updated.

They should be responsible in implementing recommended measures without delay, she said, adding that workers too, should take charge of their own health and personal hygiene.

Meanwhile, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli said that his ministry's focus was cleanup and disinfection, and proper disposal of biohazards.

Minister for Communications and Information S Iswaran pointed out that information could be abused to create alarm, anxiety and panic, and that the Government has stepped up efforts to provide people with accurate, up-to-date information.

Task force co-chair, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, emphasised the importance of people not becoming xenophobic, and also advised people to stay calm and carry on with their lives.

"Let's not fall prey to false rumours or succumb to panic," he said, adding that people should get their information from official sources.

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