COVID-19: Symptomatic travellers to S'pore must serve 14-day stay-home notice regardless of swab test outcome

A Home Team Science and Technology Agency scientist demonstrating part of the new testing process it uses to detect COVID-19 in swab samples on 5 March, 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)
A Home Team Science and Technology Agency scientist demonstrating part of the new testing process it uses to detect COVID-19 in swab samples on 5 March, 2020. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore)

by Wong Casandra and Chia Han Keong

SINGAPORE — Anyone entering Singapore who exhibits symptoms of respiratory illness such as fever, must now serve a 14-day stay-home notice, whether they pass or fail a nasal swab test for the coronavirus.

Those who meet the clinical definition of a suspect case will also be conveyed to the hospital for a follow-up examination.

The announcement was made at a press conference led by the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce on Friday (13 March), in light of the virus’ rapid spread to over 130 countries and territories outside mainland China.

Since last Wednesday (4 March), all travellers – Singapore residents, long-term pass holders, foreign employees holding work passes and short-term visitors alike – exhibiting such symptoms have been required to undergo a swab test at checkpoints, regardless of their travel history.

From Friday, they will also not be allowed to leave their place of residence for 14 days from the day of their return to Singapore.

National Development Minister and taskforce co-chair Lawrence Wong told reporters that foreign travellers can choose to serve the notice at a hotel or a place of residence.

He noted that a negative swab test result may not be “sufficient assurance”, given that a person who is symptomatic may just be going through the incubation stage of the virus, which is about 14 days.

“You do not know whether later on, the viral load may go up, and that’s why we want to take extra precautions and impose this full 14-day requirement for all such visitors,” Wong added.

In conducting this surveillance, particular attention will be paid to some of the countries where we have seen imported cases, “and we will want to be quite stringent about this”, he said.

Wong also stressed that all border measures put in place here are “temporary and dynamic”, and constantly adjusted and updated depending on the global situation.

The authorities are constantly looking at how it can minimise the number of imported cases here and “if there are better ways of doing this”, he said.

Work pass holders who refuse testing will be penalised

In a separate press release, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) reiterated that all work pass holders – including dependants – who refuse testing may have their immigration facilities and work pass privileges revoked or the validity shortened.

Those who do not comply with the testing or who cannot be contacted subsequently may face penalties and can be prosecuted under the Infectious Diseases Act.

On 28 February, a couple from China was charged under the act for giving false information to MOH officers, impeding efforts by authorities to carry out contact tracing.

The ministry also advised employers to inform their work pass holders who are overseas that they may be required to undergo a swab test when they enter or return to Singapore.

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.

To date, Singapore has 200 confirmed cases of the virus, of which over 50 are imported. While 97 patients have fully recovered and have been discharged from hospital, 11 remain in critical condition in the intensive care unit.

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