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Covid-19: Border restrictions on 4 European countries, no port calls for cruises, advisories for large events

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Singapore is introducing new border restrictions for travellers from Italy, France, Spain and Germany; more precautions including stay-home notices for travellers entering with symptoms; ceasing port calls for all cruise vessels; and advisories for large events, workplaces and public venues, as the Covid-19 virus outbreak intensifies globally.

SINGAPORE is introducing new border restrictions for travellers from Italy, France, Spain and Germany; more precautions including stay-home notices for travellers entering with symptoms; ceasing port calls for all cruise vessels; and advisories for large events, workplaces and public venues, as the Covid-19 virus outbreak intensifies globally.

From 11.59pm on March 15, all new visitors with recent travel history to Italy, France, Spain and Germany in the last 14 days will not be allowed to enter or transit through Singapore.

From the same time, Singapore citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders - including those on work passes, student's pass, dependant's pass and long-term visit pass - with such travel history will be issued a stay-home notice upon their return to Singapore. They will have to remain in their place of residence at all times for 14 days.

Work pass holders and dependents with such travel history, who plan to enter or return to Singapore, will also need approval from the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) before they commence their journey.

This applies to existing work pass holders now outside Singapore as well as in-principle approval holders who have yet to enter, regardless of nationality.

Employers will also have to declare that they have arranged for suitable premises to house those entering, while they serve the stay-home notice.

This is an extension of similar MOM requirements for work pass holders with recent travel history to mainland China, Iran, and South Korea.

While the situation here remains under control, Singapore cannot be complacent, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Friday morning, noting that the country still sees new cases every day, and increasingly more imported cases. "Therefore as cases rise globally, we expect to see spikes in the number of cases here in Singapore."

As at March 12, 47 cases - about a quarter of the total 187 cases in Singapore so far - were imported.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) is advising all Singaporeans to defer all non-essential travel to Italy, France, Spain and Germany, which have had very high numbers of cases and very high rates of increase.

Singaporeans are also advised to exercise caution when travelling to all countries affected by Covid-19, especially those which have exported cases. Countries with known and potential exported cases to Singapore are mainland China, France, Germany, Italy, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Other countries and regions with known and potential exported cases are Egypt, Hong Kong, India, Iran, Israel, South Korea, Spain, and Thailand.

MOH director of medical services Kenneth Mak said this does not necessarily mean that other countries have no cases or that there is no risk of being affected there.

More measures are also being taken to protect Singapore at its borders. Since March 4, all incoming travellers with fever or other symptoms of respiratory disease have had to take a swab test for Covid-19 at the checkpoint, but were able to continue their journey. With immediate effect, such travellers will now be issued a stay-home notice, which they will have to serve in full even if the swab test result is negative.

Said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong: "We are concerned about countries where there are few reported cases of the virus but where we already see exported cases from these countries." Singapore has already seen six imported cases from Indonesia and two from Malaysia, he noted.

Other measures have also been introduced. With immediate effect, Singapore will cease port calls for all cruise vessels.

All ticketed cultural, sports and entertainment events with 250 participants or more are to be deferred or cancelled. For those that have already been committed - for instance, if tickets have been sold - organisers must show that satisfactory precautionary measures have been put in place before they can proceed.

For other mass gatherings, including private functions and religious services, organisers are advised to take precautions such as reducing the scale to below 250 participants where possible; reduce crowding and improve ventilation; put in place temperature and health screening measures, turning away people who are unwell; and put in place measures to facilitate contact tracing if needed.

For workplaces, employers are advised to have measures to reduce close contact where possible, such as telecommuting and videoconferencing. Owners of public venues are also advised to put in place measures, such as seating customers at least a metre apart in dining places; at entertainment venues and tourist attractions, limiting the number of visitors at any one time; and limiting the number of patrons for sports centres with indoor facilities.

Mr Wong stressed that ultimately, individuals must exercise responsibility and take additional precautions.

Asked how long border restrictions might be in place, given expectations that the virus outbreak could last till the end of the year, he noted that border restrictions are temporary and "the situation with travel restrictions is not static".

The government is studying if there are other ways in which border surveillance could take place, apart from the current approach of disallowing new visitors from certain countries and regions, Mr Wong added.