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Singapore turning away new visitors with travel history to mainland China within the last 14 days to contain Wuhan virus
SINGAPORE is temporarily closing its doors to all Chinese passport holders - save for those who live here - and visitors who were in mainland China in the past fortnight, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong announced on Friday evening, in an update by the multi-ministry taskforce.
Meanwhile, as "it is clear that the Wuhan virus is already having an impact on the economy", Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat will offer more news on Saturday on a suite of support measures, Mr Wong added.
Business in tourism-related sectors, such as hotels and airlines, were identified by the taskforce this week as likely to suffer as sentiment weakens, and Mr Wong has now said that "we have to be prepared for this to go on for some time".
Still, he added: "We are also looking at an economic package to help businesses - but, importantly, to help Singaporean workers."
Mr Heng, who is also the finance minister, later posted on Facebook: "We stand ready to help businesses and workers affected by the outbreak. I will announce the details at Budget 2020 on Feb 18, but over this weekend, I will share an outline of some of the key measures that we are planning."
Under the latest entry restriction, which takes effect on Saturday night, returning Singapore residents and long-term visa holders - including work permit holders, student pass holders, and dependent and long-term visit pass holders - can still come in, although they will be placed under a 14-day leave of absence from school or work.
Short-term and multiple-visit visas and visa-free transit for Chinese passport holders, in the meantime, will be suspended with immediate effect.
All new applications for work passes from mainland China are also being rejected until further notice, the Manpower Ministry said, although renewal applications will not be affected by the halt.
Still,there will be discretion to allow entry to certain groups, such as cabin crew, so flight operations can continue.
"At the operational level, there may well be appeals," Mr Wong added, citing the example of Chinese nationals who have not been in mainland China recently, while stressing that the policy "is not nationality-based".
"The intent is with a view towards the virus outbreak in China itself, the risk that emanates from there and from any travellers who have recent travel history in China. That is the policy's intent," he maintained.
Mr Wong, who is co-chair of the multi-ministry virus taskforce, told the briefing that the curbs come amid "a growing possibility that more individuals from other parts of China may have been infected" beyond the epicentre in Hubei: "There is a high likelihood of widespread community transmission in other parts of China, and we are likely to see a sharper rise in the spread of the virus in Chinese cities beyond Hubei in the coming days."
But he reiterated that there is still no evidence of local transmission of the virus here, with all cases being imported.
Mr Wong was flanked at a press briefing by Singapore's director of medical services, Kenneth Mak; Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran; and Immigrations and Checkpoint Authority chief Marvin Sim.
Said Mr Iswaran: "I want to reiterate that these are proactive measures that we are taking in response to the latest information and expert advice, to minimise the risk of community spread and to safeguard the health and wellbeing of Singaporeans."
Mr Wong had said as recently as Monday that a full ban on all Chinese travellers - while not off the table - was not necessary at that point in time.
Still, Singapore closed its borders on Wednesday to holders of Hubei-issued passports, as well as to all visitors who had been in the virus-stricken Chinese province in the fortnight prior.
But, since early this week, confirmed infections in China have doubled, while the virus has spread to all parts of mainland China, Mr Wong noted.
In recent days, countries have unveiled a slew of measures to keep the spread of the virus in check, with the United States slapping all of mainland China with a “do not travel” advisory.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong also told reporters earlier on Thursday that Singapore’s view of the situation is in line with that of the World Health Organization, which overnight declared the epidemic a world public health emergency.
The latest news on border controls came a day after the government, following a run on stores, said it would hand out 5.2 million surgical masks from its stockpile - four masks for every resident household.
Mr Iswaran has now called for calm and order as residents collect their masks.
"No stockpile will be adequate if there is widespread bulk-buying, hoarding and inappropriate use," he added.