COVID-19: China understood why Singapore had to impose travel curbs - Vivian Balakrishnan

A couple seen wearing face masks outside the Parliament House. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)
A couple seen wearing face masks outside the Parliament House. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — China understood why Singapore had to restrict nationals from the Chinese mainland from travelling to Singapore due to the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, said Minister for Foreign Affairs Vivian Balakrishnan on Monday (2 March).

The minister was speaking about Singapore’s decision to ban travellers from China in a bid to curb the spread of COVID-19 during the Ministry of Foreign Affair’s (MFA) Committee of Supply 2020 debate in Parliament.

The decision was “not an easy one” and that the “paramount concern” was to protect public health in Singapore, Dr Balakrishnan added.

“After all, we are a densely populated city, state, and we are an international transportation hub. We did not want to import, nor export infection. These stringent measures were necessary in order to prevent the virus from spreading here.”

Stating that the measures were “not directed at any cut specific country nationality or race”, Dr Balakrishnan nevertheless said that the government recognised that the travel ban could impact Singapore’s bilateral relations with China.

“We therefore gave China heads up before making the public announcement, and we made a special effort to explain why we had to do this,” he said.

“And I spoke to a senior Chinese leader recently, he conveyed China's understanding of the actions that were taken,” he added.

The decision to suspend the issuance of all forms of new visas to those with China passports came on 31 January.

The travel restriction meant that China passport holders not residing in Singapore were barred from entering or transiting through the Republic. New visitors with recent travel history to mainland China were also restricted from entering or transiting through Singapore from 1 February.

Said Dr Balakrishnan, “I think his exact words (in Chinese) to me were, ‘我们可以理解你们的特殊情况’ (‘We can understand your special circumstances’).”

He added that the Chinese leader had expressed gratitude towards Singapore for the nation’s efforts in supporting China during the outbreak, including sending testing equipment and test kits, which were developed in Singapore.

“We also send personal protective equipment and other medical supplies that were needed because of the sheer scale of the challenges that they were facing.”

The Singapore Red Cross has also raised more than $6 million for the affected communities across China, he added.

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