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Singapore to bar new visitors from Iran, northern Italy, South Korea due to Covid-19 worries

NEW visitors with recent travel history to Iran, northern Italy, or South Korea within the last 14 days will not be allowed to enter or transit through Singapore, from 11.59 pm on March 4, amid a surge in Covid-19 cases in those regions. This is part of additional precautionary measures, including swab testing for symptomatic travellers, announced in response to the escalating global outbreak of the virus.

From the same timing onwards, returning Singapore citizens and permanent residents, as well as long-term pass holders - including those on work passes, student passes, dependant's pass and long-term visit pass - with travel history to those areas in the last 14 days will be issued with a stay-home notice. Under the stay-home notice, they will have to remain in their place of residence at all times for 14 days after returning to Singapore.

All work pass holders, including dependants, with travel history to those regions in the last 14 days will also need the Manpower Ministry's approval before commencing their journey to Singapore, in an extension of existing requirements for workers with recent travel history to mainland China. This applies both to existing work pass holders that are now overseas, and in-principle approval holders who have yet to enter.

"Northern Italy" refers to eight administrative regions: Aosta Valley, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, and Trentino-Alto Adige. The popular tourist destination of Venice is located in Veneto.

Singaporeans are also advised to defer non-essential travel to Iran, northern Italy, South Korea and Japan.

Japan is not included among regions affected by entry restrictions as the number of cases there is not as high as the other regions, said Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry taskforce on Covid-19. He was speaking to the media at a Tuesday evening doorstop regarding the announcement.

As at 12 noon on March 3, there have been 4,812 cases reported in South Korea, 1,835 cases in Italy - mostly in its northern region - and 1,501 cases in Iran. Japan has confirmed 268 cases.

The Ministry of Health has also expanded its clinical definition of suspect cases to include persons with pneumonia or severe respiratory infection with breathlessness who have been to Iran, northern Italy, Japan, and South Korea within 14 days before the onset of symptoms. Cases meeting this expanded definition will be referred to hospitals for further assessment.

New precautionary testing will also be introduced for travellers entering Singapore who have fever or other symptoms of respiratory disease, even if they have not been to affected regions. Such travellers will have to undergo a Covid-19 swab test before being able to carry on with their journey.

Pending the results, which may take three to six hours to obtain, the travellers are advised to minimise contact with others. They will be contacted regarding the test results, and those testing positive will be sent to hospital.

Short-term visitors who are identified for testing but refuse to undergo it will not be allowed to enter Singapore. Permanent residents and long-term pass holders who refuse testing may have their immigration facilities and work pass privileges revoked or shortened. All travellers - including Singaporeans - who do not comply with testing or are subsequently uncontactable may face penalties and can be prosecuted under the Infectious Diseases Act.

Asked at what point the government would consider entry restrictions on travellers from Japan, Mr Wong said that there is no single threshold. The government looks at various risks, including the risk of Covid-19's spread within the relevant country as well as the risk of the infection entering Singapore. "There will be a range of indicators we continue to monitor," he said.

But increasingly, the risk is not from just one country, he added. As the Covid-19 outbreak unfolds globally, infections could come from anywhere, especially if the country of origin does not do proactive testing, said Mr Wong.

And although Singapore has been seeing only a handful of new infections each day, this may not remain the norm, he cautioned. The situation can change very easily, as other countries have experienced, where one event causes a sharp spike in cases and sustained transmission. Singaporeans must be mentally prepared for this possibility, he said.