COVID-19: Singapore to shift from border control to social distancing

SINGAPORE — As the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to spread globally, border controls will become less relevant and effective in the future, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong on Tuesday (10 March). Singapore will need to shift its approach towards containing the spread within the country, he added.

“Country-specific border control measures will become less relevant and effective because we are unable to shut Singapore from the world,” he said during a media conference by the multi-ministry task force set up to handle the coronavirus, which he co-chairs.

“We will have to double down on the measures we can do within Singapore. We will look at the whole range of social distancing measures.”

Ramping up with fuller range of measures

Some basic surveillance at the borders would continue, as well as the use of swab tests for travellers who are febrile (showing signs of fever) or who have respiratory symptoms.

However, over time, Wong said the government will have to ramp up and implement more social distancing measures.

An example of a social distancing measure was implemented on Tuesday, as the Ministry of Health (MOH) suspended all senior-centric activities by government agencies for two weeks, following a COVID-19 outbreak cluster that had spread from a dinner event at SAFRA Jurong.

Other forms of social distancing measures already in place include isolating patients, putting close contacts on quarantine and issuing Stay-Home Notices.

“We will look at a fuller range of social distancing measures we can put in place (such as) staggered hours and telecommuting, for public events, community activities, school closures, workplace as well as religious services. We will cover a broad spectrum and we will see what we should put in place,” Wong said.

Mindful of disruptions to daily lives

He added that the authorities are “very mindful” that such measures will be disruptive to the daily lives of many Singaporeans. Getting the measures right, and applying them at the proper time, will be crucial.

“We will do so based on the data, evidence and expert advice,” he said. “In that context, it is useful to think of this broad sweep of social distancing measures as something we can apply from time to time, as circuit breakers throughout the entire epidemic cycle.

“By doing so, we put in brakes to try and stop, or slow down the transmission chain, and flatten the epidemic curve.”

While some of the COVID-19 containment measures will be implemented on a temporary basis, such as the suspension of senior-centric activities, there are others which will be permanent, such as the SG Clean campaign announced on 6 March.

“These are things we should be doing permanently. We will continue to emphasise some of these things – permanent measures like washing hands frequently with soap, improving hygiene standards in all our public places, and the use of common serving utensils rather than double-dipping,” Wong said.

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