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Singapore ready to review border health measures if needed; China COVID cases 'of particular concern'

Ahead of China's relaxing of border measures on 8 January, the MOH said Singapore 'cannot completely stop infections'

Singapore's Changi Airport Tower and a woman wearing a mask at an airport during COVID. (Photos: Getty Images)
Singapore authorities are monitoring the situation with China relaxing its border measures amid a new wave of COVID infections. (Photos: Getty Images)

Amidst public concern about the high level of COVID-19 infections in China and their relaxing of border measures on 8 January 2023, Singapore's Ministry of Health (MOH) has said it is closely watching the global situation, in a statement on Friday (30 December).

No new measures were announced in the MOH's statement, but the ministry said it stands 'ready to reinstate border health measures for selected countries if warranted by the public health situation'.

Noting that countries like India, Italy, Japan and the US had announced new testing requirements for all travellers from China, the MOH said that Singapore 'cannot completely stop infections', but it could ensure that the infections resulted in few cases of hospitalisations and severe illnesses.

The MOH noted that Singapore's epidemiological situation has remained stable after the XBB wave, with the introduction of paediatric and bivalent COVID-19 vaccines having helped to strengthen 'our already high community hybrid immunity'.

The statement from the ministry comes on the same day that the Malaysian government announced that it would screen all inbound travellers for fever and test the wastewater from aircraft arriving from China.

In its statement, Singapore's health ministry highlighted that other countries in the EU, Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand annd the UK had similarly not announced any border tightening measures on Chinese travellers.

Two specific concerns for MOH

Acknowledging that the cases of COVID-19 had surged across the globe with the increase in international travel and the onset of winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the MOH said that it had previously highlighted China as 'currently of particular concern'.

The MOH highlighted two specific concerns - the possible emergence of new and more dangerous COVID variants, and that travellers should not add 'significant burden' to Singapore's hospitals.

At present, the ministry said Singapore's airport sees between 700 and 1,000 arrivals from China each day, or about 1 to 1.5 per cent of total daily arrivals by air, adding that the majority of these arrivals were residents and long-term pass holders returning to Singapore.

The MOH said it detected between 40 and 80 COVID-19 cases from among these travellers on a weekly basis, but most had exhibited mild symptoms, except one Singaporean, who had become severely ill after returning from China.

On the concern of new variants, the MOH said that based on the sequencing results submitted by the Centres for Disease Control of various Chinese cities, 'the strains circulating in China are known ones, and no new variants with greater transmissibility or severity than previously identified subvariants have been detected'.

"As air travel with China is progressively restored, we will take a cautious approach towards increasing seat capacity, taking into account the overall public health assessment," the MOH said.

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