Monday, 16 March 2020

Singaporeans advised to defer all non-essential travel for next 30 days, as part of new COVID-19 measures

Border restrictions: From 16 March 2020, 2359 hours, all travellers (including Singapore Residents, Long Term Pass holders, and short-term visitors) entering Singapore with recent travel history to ASEAN countries, Japan, Switzerland, or the United Kingdom within the last 14 days will be issued with a 14-day Stay-Home Notice (SHN)

Singaporeans, Malaysians at land, sea crossings not affected by border curbs on ASEAN states
By Calvin Yang, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2020

Singaporeans should defer all non-essential travel, and border restrictions have been tightened to include ASEAN states, as the Republic moves to reduce the growing risk of COVID-19 importation.

The travel advisory for Singaporeans is with immediate effect, to reduce their risks of contracting the virus, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said yesterday. It will apply for 30 days and is subject to further review.

From 11.59pm today, 16 March, all travellers - including Singapore residents, long-term pass holders and short-term visitors - entering the country with recent travel history to ASEAN countries, Japan, Switzerland or the United Kingdom within the last 14 days will receive a 14-day stay-home notice.

This will not apply to Singaporeans and Malaysians who travel between the two countries using the sea and land crossings, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong at a press conference yesterday.

This is given the large numbers who cross the borders daily, and to ensure that the restrictions do not impact the supply of food and other essentials between Singapore and Malaysia, the Government said.

Separate arrangements, including precautions to be taken, will be made and are being discussed by a bilateral joint working group, said Mr Wong, who co-chairs a Singapore multi-ministry task force to fight the coronavirus. About 300,000 people use the land checkpoints every day, he said.

Apart from Singaporeans and Malaysians who fall outside the latest stay-home notice requirement, all other travellers from the ASEAN countries, Japan, Switzerland and the UK, who are affected, will also have to provide proof of the place where they will serve the 14-day notice.

This could be a hotel booking covering the entire period, or a place of residence that they or their family members own.

They may also be swabbed for testing for COVID-19, even if asymptomatic. Currently, the test is done on travellers who show symptoms.

On top of the stay-home order, also from 11.59pm today, all short-term visitors who are nationals of any ASEAN country must submit, in advance, information on their health to the Singapore overseas mission in the country where they reside.

They must receive approval from Singapore's MOH before travel to the Republic, and this will be verified by Immigration and Checkpoints Authority officers at the checkpoints. Those who arrive without the necessary approvals will be turned away.

The Ministry of Manpower will introduce new measures for foreign domestic workers entering Singapore.

MOH said it has seen several imported cases entering Singapore for medical care, which imposes a significant burden on Singapore's healthcare resources.

Mr Wong said the tighter border control measures will help manage the number of imported cases, as well as the demand for healthcare services.

"It is really hard for us to cope with this additional demand during this critical period when our healthcare resources are already stretched", he noted.

In an update last night, 15 March, MOH said that 14 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed - the highest in a single day - with nine of them imported.

The latest restrictions are on top of measures announced last week to contain the spread of the virus within the country, with social distancing a major line of defence.

Coronavirus outbreak: New curbs won't affect Malaysians, citizens entering Singapore via land, sea
Separate arrangements for precautions being worked out by bilateral joint working group
By Toh Ting Wei, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2020

Singaporeans and Malaysians travelling into Singapore from Malaysia via land or sea will be exempted from the new border restrictions on ASEAN countries, due to the close proximity and high inter-dependency between the two neighbours.

But separate arrangements for precautions are being worked out by a bilateral joint working group, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said yesterday.

Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said in a Facebook post that the exemption means workers who commute daily between Singapore and Malaysia can still do so.

He added: "The latest restrictions will also not have an impact on the supply of food and other essentials between Singapore and Malaysia as drivers of goods vehicles will be able to enter as per normal."

The Ministry of Health yesterday announced that from 11.59pm today, 16 March, all travellers - including Singapore citizens, permanent residents, long-term pass holders and short-term visitors - entering Singapore with recent travel history to ASEAN countries, Japan, Switzerland or the United Kingdom within the last 14 days will be issued a 14-day stay-home notice.

But Mr Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force tackling the coronavirus outbreak, said such restrictions on those coming in from Malaysia would be complex.

He noted that 300,000 people move across the land crossings at the Woodlands and Tuas checkpoints alone on a daily basis.

"We do have to put in place some special considerations for Malaysia because of the close proximity and the high inter-dependency between our two countries," he said.

"So for now, the arrangements which I just described will not apply to our sea and land crossings with Malaysia."

Malaysia reported 190 new coronavirus cases yesterday, with most linked to a religious event attended by over 10,000 people from several countries. This brings the total number of infections in Malaysia to 428.

Mr Wong added: "We want precautions to be taken there, and so separate arrangements are being worked out by the bilateral joint working group we have with Malaysia."

Foreign maids entering Singapore to be issued stay-home notice with effect from 16 March 2020, 2359 hours; affected employers to get support
By Toh Ting Wei, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2020

All foreign domestic workers (FDWs) entering Singapore will be served a 14-day stay-home notice, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) said yesterday.

All employers and employment agencies planning for their FDWs to enter Singapore will also need to obtain MOM's approval before the workers commence their journey.

These measures, taken in view of the rapid spread of the coronavirus worldwide, will affect both new and returning workers. They will take effect from 11.59pm today, 16 March.

"The new measures take into consideration that FDWs live with families and many look after young children and the elderly," said MOM.

The ministry added that all new incoming FDWs must serve their stay-home notices at alternative accommodation (dormitories, hostels or hotels) before they can be deployed for employment.

For domestic workers returning from overseas, their employers can arrange for them to serve the notice at the employer's residential address, or alternative accommodation.

On the entry approval for the domestic workers, MOM said the application can be done online.

The applicant - either the employer or the employment agency - will be responsible for ensuring that the domestic worker complies with the stay-home notice.

The ministry said employers and agencies should ask the domestic worker not to make travel plans until approval is obtained.

All FDWs will have to show an MOM approval letter to checkpoint officials in order to enter Singapore.

MOM said enforcement action, including revocation of work passes and issuing of demerit points to agencies, will be taken against those who flout the new requirements.

Eligible employers of domestic workers who do not serve their stay-home notices at the employer's registered residential addresses can apply to tap a support package from the ministry.

More details will be made known at a later stage.

MOM also strongly encouraged domestic workers to spend their rest day at home, and urged employers to work out the appropriate arrangements to facilitate this.

Singapore sees 14 new cases on 15 March 2020, most in single day, with 9 of them imported
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2020

Fourteen new coronavirus cases, including a pre-school teacher, were reported by the Ministry of Health yesterday.

It is the largest number of new cases here in a single day and brings the country's total to 226.

Nine of these are imported, while two are part of a cluster linked to a private dinner held at SAFRA Jurong's Joy Garden restaurant on Feb 15. The SAFRA Jurong cluster remains Singapore's largest, with 47 cases associated with it so far.

The three remaining cases, including the pre-school teacher, are linked to previous patients.

The pre-school teacher, Case 221, is linked to Case 204, a 32-year-old American man who was in Japan from Feb 29 to March 8 and was confirmed to have the virus last Friday. The 28-year-old Filipina and Singapore work pass holder was last at MY World Preschool in Lengkok Bahru on Friday, said the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) yesterday. ECDA has ordered the pre-school to close from today to March 27, which covers the 14-day incubation period from when the teacher was last at the school.

All pupils, teachers and staff will be given leave of absence during the closure period. The pre-school, which will thoroughly clean and disinfect its premises, will resume programmes on March 28 and is closely monitoring its staff and pupils' well-being, ECDA said.

Another patient, Case 214, is a 29-year-old Singaporean man linked to Case 208, a 26-year-old Singaporean woman who is a medical social worker at Singapore General Hospital. The man is currently warded at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) and had visited the Singapore University of Social Sciences and community services centre Youth Go! in Fajar Road prior to hospitalisation.

Among the imported cases confirmed yesterday is a 48-year-old Singaporean man who was in Indonesia from March 4 to 13.

The man, Case 213, reported symptoms while in Indonesia on March 8. He went last Friday to the emergency department at Sengkang General Hospital, where he is now warded in an isolation room.

Another imported case, Case 222, is a 41-year-old French national and Singapore work pass holder who was in France, Spain and the Philippines before being confirmed with the virus yesterday. He is warded in an isolation room at NCID.

Thirteen patients are in critical condition in the intensive care unit, while 105 have fully recovered and been discharged from hospital.

Five Singaporeans who attended religious event in Kuala Lumpur visited 10 mosques here while infectious
MUIS: Congregants who visited the mosques during certain periods may have been exposed to a case
By Prisca Ang, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2020

After attending a large religious gathering at a mosque on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, five Singaporeans returned here and tested positive for the coronavirus.

But by then, they had visited 10 mosques in Singapore during their infectious period.

Congregants who visited these mosques during certain timeframes may have been exposed to a COVID-19 case, said the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) in a statement yesterday.

COVID-19 is the disease caused by the coronavirus.

The affected mosques are Masjid Al-Iman, Masjid Al-Muttaqin, Masjid Hajjah Fatimah, Masjid Hajah Rahimabi Kebun Limau, Masjid Kassim, Masjid Petempatan Melayu Sembawang, Masjid Sultan, Masjid Al-Mawaddah, Masjid Jamae (Chulia) and Masjid Al-Istiqamah.

The confirmed cases had visited these mosques at various periods of time from March 3 to 11.

MUIS advised congregants who had visited these mosques to monitor their health closely for two weeks from their last visit to the affected mosque.

They should look out for fever or respiratory symptoms such as cough, sore throat, runny nose or breathlessness, and seek medical attention promptly if they have these symptoms or feel unwell.

They should also wear a mask and call the clinic ahead of the visit to inform the clinic doctor of their attendance at the affected activities that are linked to the confirmed COVID-19 cases, said MUIS.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli urged Singaporeans who wish to attend similar gatherings overseas to review their plans as social distancing measures might not be strictly implemented by the organisers.

"If you do decide to go or have gone, please report yourselves to the authorities upon your return," he said in a Facebook post yesterday, after MUIS released its statement.

He wrote: "These are challenging times, but let us take comfort in the fact that we are mobilising all our resources to keep this virus at bay."

In its statement, MUIS also reminded members of the public to be socially responsible and exercise personal hygiene. See a doctor when unwell, even with mild flu-like symptoms, and stay at home to prevent spreading illness to others, it said.

Members of the public should also keep to the same family physician for better continuity of care, isolate themselves at home when unwell and as advised by a doctor, wash their hands frequently with soap and water, and avoid touching their faces.

They should also steer clear of large community gatherings and large religious gatherings overseas during this period and defer non-essential travel to mainland China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Spain.

MUIS' announcement comes after it closed all 70 mosques in Singapore for five days for cleaning, starting last Friday, as a preventive measure to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Around 90 Singaporeans were among the 10,000 people from different countries who attended the mass religious gathering held at a mosque in Selangor between Feb 27 and March 1.

At least 37 Bruneians and 77 Malaysians who were at the gathering, or were close contacts of attendees, have tested positive, according to media reports.

"It is possible for more cases to emerge from people who had visited the mosque, or further spread to their close contacts," said MUIS, adding that it is actively assisting the Ministry of Health in its efforts to conduct contact tracing to limit the spread of the virus.

Malaysia reports 190 new coronavirus cases on 15 March, most linked to mosque event
Infections climb to 428; Muhyiddin meeting ministries to discuss further measures
By Trinna Leong In Kuala Lumpur, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2020

Malaysia has reported its biggest single-day jump in coronavirus cases, announcing 190 new confirmed patients yesterday.

"Based on initial investigations, the majority of these new cases are linked to the cluster involving the 'ijtimak tabligh' gathering at the Jamek Sri Petaling Mosque," said Health Minister Adham Baba.

The Health Ministry had announced last Saturday that 77 people confirmed to have COVID-19 were linked to the religious event held at a mosque in Selangor.

The gathering was attended by about 16,000 people from several countries.

With the new cases, the number of those affected by COVID-19 in Malaysia has climbed to 428 people. Of the total, 42 have been discharged. Nine patients are in intensive care units (ICUs) in hospitals and require respiratory assistance. This is an increase from five ICU patients last Saturday.

Datuk Seri Dr Adham said Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin is meeting the health and defence ministries today to discuss further measures for tackling the pandemic, following yesterday's steep spike in infections.

While the ministry did not provide specifics of the 190 new cases, including where they were infected, it said the bulk were linked to the religious gathering held from Feb 27 to March 1.

The authorities estimated that 14,500 attendees were Malaysians. Contact tracing for the attendees is ongoing.

Those from neighbouring countries have been infected as well. In Brunei, 45 of a total 50 cases had been linked to the religious gathering, while in Singapore, five Singaporeans tested positive for COVID-19.

As of last Saturday evening, nearly 5,000 Malaysian attendees have been identified.

The rate of increase in COVID-19 cases in the country had slowed down before the spike from last Tuesday.

A mosque in Shah Alam, a suburb in Selangor, announced yesterday that it was closed for prayers after a congregant tested positive for COVID-19 after returning from a trip to Vietnam.

However, the state's Islamic department told the mosque - Masjid Al Munawwarah - to reverse its decision and to remain open.

Meanwhile, a lawmaker in Sarawak has tested positive for COVID-19. Sarikei MP Andrew Wong Ling Biu was admitted to hospital last Saturday for treatment.

Other state lawmakers from his Democratic Action Party (DAP) have been told to self-quarantine for two weeks from their last contact with Mr Wong.

Sarawak DAP chairman Chong Chieng Jen said most had close contact with the lawmaker on March 1.

The Sarawak state government has also ordered a ban on gatherings of more than 50 people.

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