Parliament: About 140 Singaporeans still in Wuhan, says Lawrence Wong

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong speaking at the Multi-Ministry press conference on Monday (27 January). (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — Here are the highlights from Parliament’s sitting on Monday (3 February).

3.50pm: The Singapore government is working with employers to gather more information on the 30,000 work permit holders who have yet to return from China following the Chinese New Year holidays.

“We are... working directly with the employers to identify who they are, which sectors, where are their places of residents today. That exercise is underway now, so that we can be ready (for) when these workers return,” said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

He noted that not all of these workers “live in our housing estates”.

3.45pm: It takes at least two separate tests for a person infected with the Wuhan coronavirus – or 2019-nCoV – to be deemed virus free, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

“I understand from my professional colleagues that, for patients, they will do two tests. Both tests have to show negative viral loads,” he said.

Gan, who co-chairs the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on the Wuhan Coronavirus, added that the tests are conducted one day apart to ensure that the patients are virus-free before they are considered for discharge.

On top of the tests, doctors will also make an assessment to be confident that the patient is well before he or she is released.

3.27pm: The ongoing collection exercise for face masks is a “prudent” method for distributing them, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

“To address the concern of people gathering together, we have decentralised the distribution points to void decks, (Residents’ Committee) centres. It is proceeding in a very orderly fashion,” he said.

Wong, who co-chairs the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on the Wuhan Coronavirus, said the government felt that distributing the masks via post would possibly had led to “some wastage” as some households would not need them.

“Even in the collection exercise... residents come to us and say, ‘Actually, I don’t need the masks. I’m not going to collect it. You save it, either for your stockpile or give it to someone else’,” said Wong.

3.19pm: The travel restrictions Singapore have imposed upon those with a travel history to China are “complementary to China’s own actions”, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

“I believe, China understands why some of these restrictions are needed. China itself has restricted its own people from traveling outside of China, precisely because they do not want to spread this virus to other countries,” he said.

“It is in all of our interests, be it China, Singapore, or any other country... to tackle this situation together as a global community,” Wong added.

2.53pm: There are about 140 Singaporeans still in Wuhan, the epicentre of China’s 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) outbreak, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

“Most of them have spouses who may not be Singaporeans. So they've either chosen to remain in China or the time being, or they would like to come back but we have to work out arrangements because it's not so straightforward,” he said.

Wong was responding to questions raised following his Ministerial Statement on the Singapore government’s response to the Wuhan Coronavirus situation. He noted that the government is in touch with the Chinese authorities to see what else can be done for the group of Singaporeans that want to return home.

“We are also in touch with the Singaporeans directly on whether there are any Singaporeans outside of Hubei who have been infected with the virus. We do not know of anyone at this point in time,” said Wong.

Last Thursday, 92 Singaporeans were flown home safely from Wuhan aboard Scoot Flight TR121. Of this number, two have so far tested positive for 2019-nCoV. Wong said that another four Singaporeans had not been allowed to board the flight as they had shown symptoms of the virus.

As of Monday, there have been 18 confirmed cases – including the two Singaporeans who travelled on TR121 – of the virus detected in Singapore, all of which have been imported.

2.25pm: Border controls are Singapore’s first line of defence against the spread of Wuhan coronavirus, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong.

“We have to be extra vigilant on this front because Singapore is an international travel hub... A virus that comes through our airport will not only impact Singapore, but can also easily spread to other countries in the region,” he said during his Ministerial Statement on Singapore’s whole-of-government approach towards tackling the virus, or 2019-nCoV.

As of last Friday, the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) is no longer issuing new visas to those with Chinese passports and has suspended all such visas.

Wong said on Monday, however, that for holders of Chinese passports who have not visited China in the past 14 days, the ICA is prepared to issue them with a short-term visit pass or extend their short-term pass.

He added that as of Sunday night, 524 people have been placed under quarantine in Singapore. Of this group, 222 are in Government Quarantine Facilities (GCFs) and 302 are serving quarantine at home.

1.58pm: Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said Singapore will be putting together an assistance package for communities in China that have been severely affected by the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.

In his ministerial statement, he emphasised that Singapore’s 18 confirmed cases of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus – or 2019-nCoV – were all imported and involved either Wuhan residents or those who had recently travelled to the Chinese city. Two of the cases are Singaporean.

Gan, who co-chairs the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on the Wuhan Coronavirus, also noted that there remains no evidence of community spread in Singapore. He warned, however, that the possibility of community spread is something Singapore needs to be prepared for.

12.58pm: Differences in sentencing could be the “result of individual cases”, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin.

“There may be specific circumstances in a case that merits a different punishment or treatment,” he said, emphasising that the ministry takes “every crime seriously”, regardless of the offender’s income level or background.

Amrin was responding to questions from Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, who raised the apparent discrepancy in sentences applied to university students convicted of sex crimes.

“I think it's not wise to draw conclusions based on one or two cases and it's important that we send a very strong message that the rich do not get away easily or lightly for any type of crimes including sexual offences,” he said.

On rehabilitation measures for young sex offenders, Amrin highlighted programmes for probationers such as the Positive Adolescent Sexuality Treatment Programme and the Positive Psychotherapy Group.

“(Ministry of Social and Family Development) research has found that for youth who are at the developmental phase of sensation seeking and impulsivity, their likelihood of reoffending is low when they receive appropriate treatment,” said Amrin.

He added that the police will continue to work with schools and universities to raise awareness of sexual crimes.

12.50pm: MOH has been observing a steady increase in the take-up rates of adult vaccinations recommended by the ministry, with more using MediSave to pay for them, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Health Amrin Amin.

“According to the National Health Population Survey 2019, in 2017, 39,000 adults used MediSave for flu vaccination. The number increased to 74,000 in 2018,” he said.

In July last year, the HealthySG Taskforce recommended the provision of subsidies to help Singaporeans pay for any recommended vaccinations. These subsidies are targeted to be rolled out by the end of this year and more details will be announced at a later date, said Amrin.

12.30pm: Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong said that all of Singapore’s private hospitals are currently not set up to provide the full range of emergency and trauma services needed to manage all life-threatening emergencies or situations involving multiple patients with serious injuries.

He noted that the Ministry of Health (MOH) has had ongoing discussions with private hospitals about their capabilities when it comes to providing emergency care. “Over the last four years, MOH has been collaborating with Raffles Hospital for the management of non-life threatening and urgent SCDF ambulance cases,” added Tong.

Hew was responding to questions raised by Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Joan Pereira and Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Daniel Goh regarding the emergency care capabilities of private hospitals.

Goh’s question was framed in the light of a traffic accident at Lucky Plaza on 29 December, which left two women dead and four injured. All the victims were Filipina domestic workers. The accident has raised questions as to why the victims were sent to Tan Tock Seng Hospital and not one of the private hospitals near Lucky Plaza, such at Mount Elizabeth.

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