Wuhan virus: Singapore expands travel ban to all China visitors

Nicholas Yong
Assistant News Editor
Travellers in face masks at Jewel Changi Airport, amid the global Wuhan coronavirus outbreak in January 2020. PHOTO: Dhany Osman/Yahoo News Singapore

SINGAPORE — The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) will suspend the issuance of all forms of new visas to those with China passports, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce on the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak announced on Friday (31 January).

Singapore’s status as a visa-free transit facility for those with such passports will also be suspended, as will previously issued short-term and multiple-visit visas for those with China passports. These measures will take effect immediately.

This means that China passport holders not residing in Singapore will be barred from entering or transiting through the Republic during this period of suspension.

Additionally, from 11.59pm on Saturday, all new visitors with recent travel history – within the last 14 days – to mainland China will not be allowed to enter or transit through Singapore, said the Taskforce.

However, returning Singaporeans and long-term visa pass holders with a similar recent travel history will be allowed to enter, but they will have to apply for 14 days of Leave of Absence (LOA) upon returning. 

The latest moves will enable the authorities to limit the number of imported cases and reduce the risk of community spread, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, co-chair of the Taskforce, at a media briefing on Friday. 

To date, there is no evidence of community spread of the virus, he stressed. 

The new curbs were announced less than a day after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern”. The declaration sets the stage for global coordinated efforts to deal with the outbreak.

WHO believes that it is still possible to interrupt the spread of the virus, provided that countries implement strong response measures, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement.

“While the majority of confirmed cases in China are still linked to Hubei province, MOH understands that there is a growing possibility that more individuals from other parts of China may be infected with the virus. Significantly, the virus has spread to every region of mainland China,” said MOH.

‘Policy intent, not nationality intent’

(L-R) Communications and Information Minister S Iswaran, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong and Immigration and Checkpoints Authority Commissioner Marvin Sim addressing reporters at a media briefing on the Wuhan virus on Friday, 31 January 2020. PHOTO: Nicholas Yong/Yahoo News Singapore

When asked if this was the first time that Singapore has imposed travel restrictions aimed at a nationality, Wong visibly bristled. “Let me make something very clear: this is not nationality-based.

“It is a travel restriction, as I have highlighted, for all visitors, regardless of nationality, with recent travel history to mainland China within the last 14 days.”

And while the travel curbs also extend to China passport holders, Wong stressed that this is due to the virus spreading beyond Hubei to other provinces, and that it is difficult to ascertain an individual’s travel history. “It is not a nationality issue.”

He added, “At the operational level, there may well be appeals. I can imagine somebody may say ‘I’m a passport holder, but I have not been in China all this while’. I think we can take that separate from the policy, and at the operational level, ICA will have to deal with these instances.”

In response to a query on how many visitors would be affected by the new policies, the minister noted that the number of arrivals with China passports has already plunged by some 80 per cent, without specifying a period for comparison. The decline was largely due to restrictions on outbound travel imposed by Chinese authorities, he added.

First Singaporean to be infected

On Friday, the MOH confirmed the first Singaporean to be infected with the Wuhan coronavirus, bringing the total tally in the Republic to 16. The 47-year-old female, who travelled to Wuhan with her family, was one of 92 Singaporeans evacuated from the city on Thursday.

The 15 other confirmed cases are all Chinese nationals, of whom at least 11 are residents of Wuhan, where the virus originated. Health officials said that all of them are stable with most improving.

The coronavirus, or 2019-nCoV, has spread to 22 territories beyond mainland China, sickening close to 10,000 people – surpassing figures for the 2002-2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak – and claiming 213 lives to date.

On Tuesday, the Taskforce announced a set of travel curbs specific to visitors with recent travel history to Hubei province, home to Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak. 

There is a travel ban in place for new visitors with recent travel history to Hubei within the last 14 days, since Wednesday. Such individuals are not allowed to enter or transit through Singapore

This also applies to those with Chinese passports issued in Hubei. For such travellers, there is a suspension on issuance of all new visas, previously-issued short-term and multiple-visit visas, and visa-free transit facilities. The ban applies to land, sea and air travel.

Returning Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term pass holders with travel history to Hubei in the last 14 days will be quarantined, as will returning permanent residents and long-term pass holders with Chinese passports issued in Hubei.

(INFOGRAPHIC: Yahoo News Singapore)

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