SINGAPORE: Returning Singapore residents who have travelled to the United Kingdom and United States will be taken from the airport to hotels to serve out their 14-day stay-home notices, authorities said on Tuesday (Mar 24).
Those returning from the two countries make up the largest share of imported cases so far, and this move will help prevent the potential spread of the infection to their family members, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-heads a multi-ministry task force on COVID-19.
This is despite the fact that none of the returnees have passed the virus to their family, he said.
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“We expect more Singapore residents, including a sizeable group of Singaporean students, to return from these countries over the coming weeks in response to lockdowns in these countries,” said the Ministry of Health (MOH) in a separate press release.
About 1,200 people a day come to Singapore from the US and UK, but this number could change, Mr Wong said.
Singapore has seen a recent spike in coronavirus cases, the majority of which were imported. Singapore on Tuesday reported 49 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the cumulative total in the country to 558. Thirty-two of the new cases were imported.
Singapore has now barred short-term visitors. Most of the imported cases are citizens and residents here.
The returning travellers will be transported directly from the airport to hotels which authorities have arranged. Each will have their own room and toilet, and all their meals will be provided, MOH said.
He did not reveal the locations of the facilities but said they will be “all over Singapore”.
This will take effect from 11.59pm on Wednesday. Those currently on stay-home notices at home can also apply to stay in these dedicated facilities, said Mr Wong at a press conference where additional safe distancing measures were also announced.
MOH said that it will be enforcing the safe distancing measures as well as breaches of stay-home notices.
Government agencies will step up enforcement efforts against people on stay-home notices and the number of officers conducting such checks will be increased “substantially”.
Anyone who breaches the notice can be fined a sum of less than S$10,000, jailed less than six months or both.
Authorities will also set up a call centre from Thursday where those on stay-home notices can call for support.
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MOH also said that Singapore residents and pass holders who disregard the Government’s advisories and still travel will be charged unsubsidised rates at public hospitals if admitted for COVID-19.
The ministry noted that there are still Singapore residents and Long Term pass holders travelling abroad even after advisories to defer all travel were issued.
“They risk the lives of other Singaporeans and residents when they return,” said MOH.
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There are still about 1,000 Singaporeans and long term pass holders abroad, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
From Mar 27, any Singapore resident or long term pass holder who leaves the country will be charged for their stay at public hospitals if they have onset of symptoms within 14 days of their return, said MOH.
Singapore residents will also not be able to claim from MediShield Life or Integrated Shield Plans for these treatments at public and private hospitals.
Any work pass holder who leaves Singapore from Mar 27 will be deprioritised for entry approval and could see significant delays before they are allowed to return to Singapore if they travel abroad and return infected, MOH warned.
Mr Gan added that authorities are taking enforcement seriously.
“We hope not to resort to the need to have policemen or the army to be involved in enforcement but, if necessary, we will not hesitate to take enforcement action,” he said.
COMMUNITY ISOLATION FACILITY
MOH has set up a Community Isolation Facility at D’Resort NTUC in Pasir Ris that can take in about 500 people.
“We will be placing patients who are clinically well enough to be discharged from medical care but still test positive for COVID-19 to the facility for isolation and care,” the ministry said.
Fifteen people were transferred there from the National Centre for Infectious Diseases on Tuesday, said MOH’s director of medical services Kenneth Mak.
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Isolating these patients in hospitals have not been an “efficient use” of healthcare resources, the ministry said.
The facility is modelled after existing Government quarantine facilities and will be managed with a higher baseline of infection control, it added.
There will be a “minimal” number of medical workers to take swabs and give basic treatment to the patients if needed, said Mr Gan.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in a Facebook post after the press conference that such strong measures to protect lives “will inevitably have a major impact on the global economy and our economies”.
“We are doing all that we can to keep you and your loved ones safe, and we need everyone to do our part,” Mr Heng wrote on Tuesday evening.
“Many of our businesses have been affected, with some sectors particularly hard hit,” he added.
“We live in extraordinary times. But this crisis has also brought out the best in our people and our companies. We must remain united, and together, we will emerge stronger,” said Mr Heng.
Mr Heng will deliver a ministerial statement on Thursday regarding the Government’s additional support measures for workers, businesses and households in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.