COVID-19: Housing returning S'pore residents in hotels for SHN is 'critical' measure - Lawrence Wong

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COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong, addressing a virtual press conference on Tuesday, 31 March 2020. PHOTO: Ministry of Communications and Information
COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong, addressing a virtual press conference on Tuesday, 31 March 2020. PHOTO: Ministry of Communications and Information

SINGAPORE — Housing thousands of returnees in hotels for the duration of their Stay-Home Notice is not an “indulgence”, but a “critical, urgent public health requirement”, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

“So this is not an indulgence for the returnees. It's not a vacation for them. It is certainly not unnecessary spending by the government. It is an important and extremely critical public health measure. If we had enough facilities, we would do it for all the returnees,” said Wong, who was addressing a virtual press conference on Tuesday (31 March).

Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry taskforce on the coronavirus outbreak, was responding to a question on the total sum that the government has budgeted for housing returning Singaporeans and Long-Term Visit Pass (LTVP) holders on SHN at hotels. It was the first time that an MTF press con has been held remotely, in line with stringent social distancing measures imposed by the government.

Wong did not directly respond to the query.

On Saturday, citing property website, Bloomberg reported that the Singapore government has booked more than 7,500 hotel rooms and serviced apartments to house returnees. This includes hotels from international luxury chains such as Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc and InterContinental Hotels Group.

Rooms in hotels such as Shangri-La’s Rasa Sentosa Resort and Spa typically cost hundreds of dollars a night, and the government is picking up the tab.

Urgent need for secure facilities

Wong had previously said that there were 1,200 Singaporeans returning each day from the Unites States and the United Kingdom alone, though the numbers have tapered off to about 300 each day. He explained that there was a need for secure, dedicated facilities which could ensure that the returnees were “properly isolated” for the full 14-day period, in order to prevent them potentially spreading the virus to family members and the larger community. ,

“So where to find these bed spaces in small little Singapore? Where do we find such dedicated facilities? The answer is hotel rooms which are vacant. And that's why we quickly activated, worked with the hotels and made available these spaces,” said Wong.

The 47-year-old also paid tribute to the hotels that have provided these rooms in “quick time”, pointing out that “proper training” was needed for hotel staff, in order to ensure that the necessary precautions and proper infection control were being carried out. He added that the authorities are looking at activating more bed spaces, based on the flow of returnees.

He concluded, “So for us, this is not a question of you know, how much are we spending. This is critical, urgent public health requirement and we will spend what is necessary to keep Singaporeans safe.”

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