COVID-19: Singapore imposes new border restrictions on Italy, Spain, France and Germany

A temperature screening station seen at the Singapore Cruise Centre on 5 March, 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)
A temperature screening station seen at the Singapore Cruise Centre on 5 March, 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)

By Chia Han Keong and Wong Casandra

SINGAPORE — Amid a sharp rise in imported COVID-19 cases, Singapore will be implementing new border restrictions, including a ban on visitors with recent travel history to Italy, France, Spain, and Germany.

With effect from 11.59pm on Sunday (15 March), visitors who have been to the four countries within the past 14 days will not be allowed into Singapore, or to transit through the country, said the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce at a press conference on Friday (13 March).

The latest announcement means that visitors with recent travel history to a total of seven countries, including China, South Korea and Iran, will be banned from entering Singapore.

Similarly, Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term pass holders with recent travel history to Italy, France, Spain, and Germany will be issued with a 14-day stay-home notice, barring them from leaving their residence during the period.

Singapore residents and long-term pass holders who have been to parts of China outside of Hubei province, Iran and South Korea will continue to be issued with the notice upon their return.

Singapore will also be ceasing port calls for cruise vessels, scheduled or otherwise, with immediate effect. This comes three days after Costa Fortuna – which was carrying some 2,000 passengers, including dozens of Italians – made a scheduled call here after being turned away by both Malaysia and Thailand.

Crew and passengers onboard all arriving vessels that have called at ports in mainland China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, South Korea, and Spain in the past 14 days will remain onboard the vessels, said Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) in a separate press release on Friday.

Those with recent travel history to those countries in the past 14 days onboard all arriving vessels will also remain onboard during the vessels’ stay in port, the MPA added.

Border controls may become ‘ineffective’ as virus spreads

“We still see the need to implement border measures, specifically country-specific measures...After consulting with experts we have decided to implement more,” said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who is also one of the co-chairs of the multi-ministry taskforce.

He noted, however, that as the virus continued its spread around the world, border controls “may become ineffective”.

“If infection spreads at a very rapid rate all over the world, then continuing along the path of issuing travel restrictions to countries with high infection rate would mean shutting Singapore from the world, and we don’t want to get there,” he explained.

“There will be a limit to how many more countries we can impose travel restriction, and we’ll have to look at different ways of doing border surveillance.”

Cases outside China increased ten-fold over past 2 weeks

In the past two weeks, the number of COVID-19 cases outside China has increased more than ten-fold, and the number of affected countries has tripled. Declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on Wednesday, the outbreak has sickened over 139,000 people globally and killed over 5,000 to date.

As of Thursday, about 25 per cent of 187 COVID-19 patients, or 47 cases, in Singapore are imported. Over the past 10 days alone, there have been 23 imported cases, or nearly a third of all new cases. These included 13 cases with travel history to European countries, and six cases from Indonesia.

In view of the coronavirus’ spread across Europe, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has advised Singaporeans to defer all non-essential travel to Italy, France, Spain, and Germany. This is on top of what the ministry has previously advised Singaporeans – to defer all travel to Hubei province and all non-essential travel to mainland China, Iran, Japan, and South Korea.

They should also exercise caution when visiting any country or territory with COVID-19 cases, especially those with exported cases. These include other countries like Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Israel, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, United Kingdom, and United States.

Singaporeans who have made plans to travel during the upcoming March school holidays are advised to review their plans based on the latest advisory. All travellers will be subject to the prevailing travel measures imposed by their destination countries, and those imposed by Singapore upon their return home.

As Singapore’s measures will evolve according to the global situation, Singaporeans should check the MOH website for the latest measures.

Work pass holders need MOM letter of approval

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has announced that with effect from 11.59pm on Sunday, all work pass holders – including dependants – with travel history to Italy, France, Spain, and Germany within the last 14 days have to obtain its approval to enter or return to Singapore, before they commence their journey.

This is regardless of the nationality of the work pass holder. The entry approval requirement applies to existing work pass holders currently out of Singapore and in-principle approval holders who have yet to enter Singapore.

Employers are required to apply for entry approval using this online facility. They will be required to send the MOM approval letter to their employees, who will need to show it to the airline staff upon check-in and at the checkpoint upon arrival in Singapore.

The entry approval requirement for work pass holders with travel history to mainland China, Iran and South Korea within the last 14 days, remains unchanged, said the ministry.

All affected work pass holders who are allowed to return to Singapore from the seven listed countries will be placed on the 14-day stay-home notice.

The ministry on 24 February said that it has rejected about 500 entry approval applications per day since the implementations of the new measures, to manage their inflow into Singapore.

The MOM also said it has approved an average of 220 applications daily and revoked the work passes of 11 workers who entered Singapore despite failing to obtain approval from the ministry.

The workers were sent back and permanently banned from working here. Their employers’ work pass privileges have also been suspended for one year.

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