SINGAPORE: Those who breach stay-home notices issued to curb the COVID-19 pandemic will be charged in court, Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam told Parliament on Wednesday (Mar 25).
“I have given very clear instructions,” he said. “Where these cases (of breaches) are verified to be true, we will charge in court.”
Mr Shanmugam’s comments are the latest indication that authorities are ready to get tough with those who do not abide by the notices, which have been issued to all travellers entering Singapore since Mar 22.
These people are required to remain at home at all times for 14 days as a precautionary measure to minimise the risk of COVID-19 transmission in Singapore.
But Mr Shanmugam said he has seen recent reports of returning travellers, particularly from the United Kingdom, going out to eat local food, holding birthday parties at home, interacting with friends and visiting clubs and bars.
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“Many Singaporeans get upset when they hear about this,” he said.
Another case, Mr Shanmugam said, involved a Singaporean returning from Myanmar and going out for bak kut teh despite having been given a stay-home notice. The man also posted about it on his Facebook page.
“I have asked for that case to be investigated,” Mr Shanmugam said.
“We are trying to verify some of these messages of stay-home notices being flouted. And if anyone, members of public, you have information about such behaviour, please give it to the police. We will follow up, and we cannot allow such behaviour.”
The Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has issued more than 21,000 stay-home notices to date, and has enforced them through means like text messages, calls and surprise visits.
Those who fail to comply face prosecution under Section 21A of the Infectious Diseases Act (IDA) and may be fined up to S$10,000, jailed up to six months or both.
Other penalties include revoking or shortening the validity of a person’s permanent residency status, long-term visit pass, dependent’s pass, student’s pass or work pass.
“MOH (Ministry of Health) will be setting out new regulations under the IDA,” Mr Shanmugam said.
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Those who falsely declare their travel history to avoid being issued with stay-home notices may also be prosecuted under the law, said the minister.
This includes Section 182 of the Penal Code and Section 57(1)(g) of the Immigration Act, both of which carry jail terms and/or fines.
“There is a wider duty that each of us owes to control the spread of COVID-19, and really not to endanger others and expose them to infection,” he stated.
The minister revealed that authorities are trying to verify reports of a person who had gone for a holiday in Italy, developed COVID-19 symptoms but hid his symptoms and travel history to get on a plane to return to Singapore.
“Later in Singapore, he was admitted to hospital, found very ill and to be carrying the virus,” he said.
“If this is true, the conduct is highly irresponsible. If we knew that there was a significant risk that he was infected, but kept silent and went on the flight. then he did so knowing that others could be infected.”
Mr Shanmugan said he understands that Singaporeans could be anxious to come home to be with their family and have access to the healthcare, but this should not be at the “risk of endangering other people’s well-being”.
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“(The person) should have declared his symptoms at check-in,” he said. “Then the airline will make a considered decision further to allow the person to fly and if so with what sort of precautions.”
Mr Shanmugam said he also received feedback from healthcare workers that some were not truthful about their travel history when they went to consult doctors.
To overcome this, he pointed to ICA’s announcement that all travellers entering Singapore from Mar 27 will have to fill in an electronic health declaration so authorities will know if they have travelled to a high-risk country.
“The Government has put in place strict regulations and a strong enforcement network,” he stated.
“But regulation and strong enforcement are not going to be enough on their own if people continue to insist on being irresponsible. All Singaporeans have to do our part.”