Singapore locks down after first fatalities

Top News | Reuters and staff reporter 23 Mar 2020

Singapore will not allow any short-term visitors to transit or enter in a bid to curb the virus' spread and conserve its resources for citizens returning from other countries.

The new measures announced yesterday come a day after the city-state reported its first fatalities and confirmed 47 new cases, taking its tally to 432.

Almost 80 percent of Singapore's new cases over the past three days were imported. Of the 39 imported cases reported on Saturday, six were short-term visitors.

"During this time we have to focus our resources on returning Singaporeans because they are coming back in large numbers," said Lawrence Wong, a minister who co-heads Singapore's virus-fighting task-force.

The country will also limit the return and entry of work-pass holders and their dependents and to those who provide essential services such as health-care and transport.

But holders of long-term visit passes, given to people such as foreign spouses and parents of Singaporeans, will not be affected.

"These are very significant moves, especially for a small and open economy like Singapore that has always been connected to the world," Wong said. "But this is an unprecedented crisis."

The ban on short-term visitors effectively starts tomorrow and Wong said he could not say how long it would need to last as it would depend on the outbreak's duration.

Singapore Airlines is waiving all rebooking fees for tickets issued on or before March 15 and traveling up to May 31.

Passengers can retain the value of their tickets and rebook the travel at a later date, but a fare difference may apply to their new booking.

"These new measures do not bring much effect to the current Hong Kong tourism industry as not many people are traveling out or entering the city," stressed Hong Kong's tourism sector lawmaker Yiu Si-wing.

"Usually many passengers from the United Kingdom and Europe opt to transit through Singapore when returning to Hong Kong people studying, working or visiting relatives abroad might be affected," Yiu added.

Yiu said currently there are no available figures on how many people in Hong Kong have been affected by the new travel ban from Singapore and Taiwan.

A Hongkonger who had been staying in Malaysia entered Singapore yesterday before the ban took effect, but she was only allowed to enter the country after purchasing a flight from Singapore to Hong Kong on April 5.

With the mandatory 14-day quarantine for foreign nationals, she would leave right after finishing the quarantine.

Although there are fewer flights between Hong Kong and Singapore now, the ticket did not cost particularly much - HK$900 for a single trip back to Hong Kong.

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