By Nicholas Yong and Dhany Osman
SINGAPORE — From Tuesday night (18 February), all travellers returning from mainland China outside of Hubei province within the last two weeks will not be allowed to leave their house during a 14-day period as part of measures to curb the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak.
The new arrangement, announced by the multi-ministry taskforce on the coronavirus on Monday, will mean that returnees will not even be allowed to leave their homes briefly to buy meals or household supplies during the period.
The 14-day Stay-Home Notice (SHN) will be stricter than the existing leave of absence (LOA), made mandatory for all returnees, Singapore residents and long-term pass holders, from mainland China outside of Hubei province.
The notice will also cover returning workers from mainland China on work passes.
Calling the SHN essentially a home quarantine scheme, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the taskforce, said, “At the same time, there are substantial number of Singaporeans, citizens, permanent residents, and long term pass holders still in China. I think at some point in time, they will want to come back to Singapore, especially after the Chinese New Year holidays. And there is a higher chance now that some of them will be infected with the virus.”
Those who flout the notice may face penalties and can be prosecuted under Section 21A of the Infectious Disease Act. Foreign workers may have their work passes revoked and be repatriated, while employers may have their work pass privileges withdrawn.
Students may face disciplinary actions from their schools or institutions, while long-term visa pass or dependant's pass holders may have their re-entry permits, or relevant passes revoked or validity shortened.
Wong reinforced that the authorities will be enforcing the requirements "strictly" with a whole range of methods, including technology such as video calls and identifying where their locations are to implement surprise spot checks.
With the introduction of the SHN, the government will no longer be issuing any more new LOAs to returnees with recent travel history to mainland China outside of Hubei, the authorities added.
Re-assessing the situation
Wong noted that when the LOA regime - “a useful and important precaution” - was started in end-January, there were 4,000 cases outside of Hubei in China. But the most recent figures have seen the number of confirmed cases tripling to 12,000.
And while there have not been any confirmed cases among returnees from mainland China so far, authorities have decided to introduce the SHN regime as an additional precautionary measure.
Asked how many people might be expected to serve a SHN, the minister noted that it was difficult to have a sense of the numbers, given that the returnees were not just Chinese nationals, but Singaporeans and permanent residents as well.
“Neither do we know how many will be coming back. Some may be there, and happy to stay there. (But) we want to just prepare for a scenario where they do come back in waves after the Chinese New Year period. And that's why we think we need a tighter and stricter regime to be put in place right now.”
In this regard, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) will extend the Leave of Absence Support Programme (LOASP) to businesses and self-employed persons affected by SHN requirements.2
Under the LOASP, eligible employers can apply for $100 daily per affected worker for the required duration of SHN. Affected workers include Singapore citizens, PRs and work pass holders who travelled to mainland China on or before 31 January 2020, and who were placed on SHN upon their return to Singapore.
Eligible employers will aqualify for levy waiver for affected foreign workers for the SHN period. Self-employed citizens and PRs who are similarly affected can also apply for the daily support of $100.
Wong also revealed that a total of 1,200 individuals are currently serving on quarantine, with about half in government quarantine facilities and the remainder serving out their quarantine at home. “We have a total capacity of about 2,000 for government quarantine facilities. So we still have some buffer. But we do need to build this up.”
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