COVID-19: Travel ban on China arrivals may ease if situation there stabilises, says Lawrence Wong

Nicholas Yong
Assistant News Editor

SINGAPORE — If the COVID-19 situation in China continues to stabilise, Singapore may consider easing travel restrictions for short-term arrivals from Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, provided they undergo a two-week self-isolation period.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry taskforce on the coronavirus outbreak, noted that the situation in the Middle Kingdom has recently come “under control”, with Chinese authorities reporting zero local cases. “And if the situation stabilises, then we will consider looking at changing the travel restrictions for some of the Chinese cities.”

He added, “As with all our changes and adjustments to our travel restrictions, they will be based on data and evidence. And we will, based on the evidence, make these changes over time. But whatever we do, we will always ensure that our borders are kept safe.”

Currently, no short-term visitors from any country or territory in the world are allowed into Singapore.

Wong spoke at a virtual press conference at the Ministry of Communications and Information on Tuesday (31 March). It was the first time that an MTF press conference has been held remotely, in line with stringent social distancing measures imposed by the government.

He was responding to a question on whether the Republic might ease travel restrictions on arrivals from China, given the improving situation there.

Earlier, the minister said that the focus must now be on the increasing number of locally transmitted cases, with the unlinked cases “particularly worrying”. The Ministry of Health (MOH) confirmed on Tuesday 47 more coronavirus cases here and a new cluster at Westlite Toh Guan dormitory, bringing the country’s total to 926. Of the new cases, 16 are imported while 31 are local transmissions.

Wong urged Singaporeans to play their part by adhering to safe distancing measures and staying home, which will help curb the spread of the virus. “We have an excellent contact tracing team, and they are going all out to trace down each and every new case, identify the links and to ringfence the cluster. But it does not help them, or it will be very difficult for them as they go about doing their work, that we see new cases popping up every day.”

Separately, director of medical services Associate Professor Kenneth Mak was asked if Singapore is close to widespread community transmission, given that imported cases have dropped, while local cases have increased rapidly. A/P Mak demurred on this point, saying, “It remains our belief that there is some community spread, but at this point in time, we are not seeing the indicators despite an increased number of unlinked cases, that this is florid, this is widespread.”

He added that contact tracers have established links not just between individuals, but even between clusters, such as the clusters at Hero’s bar and Dover Court International School.

“And as we establish these links, it gives us the confidence that in fact, we can account for how transmissions take place in that limited setting between these clusters, rather than simply saying that this is occurring in a very random and uncontrolled fashion across the community itself.”

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