Coronavirus in Singapore: COVID-19 measures and impact

Praveen Duddu 27th March 2020 (Last Updated September 7th, 2020 13:13)

The Wuhan coronavirus outbreak (COVID-19, earlier 2019-nCov) that originated in China has spread to Singapore and is a major concern to its economy in 2020.

Coronavirus in Singapore: COVID-19 measures and impact
The coronavirus pandemic poses a risk to Singapore’s economy. Credit: Shutterstock.com

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The first novel coronavirus case in Singapore was confirmed on 23 January, in a 66-year old Chinese man that arrived from Wuhan on 20 January. Further, five Singaporean were stuck on the quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess at Yokahama port in Japan.

Singapore Coronavirus Update: Confirmed cases on the rise

The number of confirmed coronavirus Singapore cases reached 683 as of 27 March. The country reported the first deaths from coronavirus on 21 March of a 75-year-old female Singapore citizen and a 64-year-old Indonesian man.

Some people contracted the infection in a private dinner event. One of the coronavirus-infected is an assistant cook working at a pre-school named Creative O Preschoolers’ Bay. The staff at the pre-school have been issued a leave of absence, while disinfection of the campus is being carried out.

Among the infected recently are also a 12-year old student at Raffles Institution and a contractor working at Shell’s Pulau Bukom manufacturing site, which hosts a refinery.

Another Shell employee working at The Metropolis in Buona Vista was identified to have close contact with a person that tested positive for the coronavirus on 14 February. The employee has been asked to work from home, although displayed no symptoms at the time of identification.

Transmission more worrying than imports

Unlike a number of other countries that are witnessing coronavirus cases in travellers from China, Singapore is concerned with more human-to-human transmissions of the novel coronavirus.

The first such transmission of the novel coronavirus in Singapore was confirmed on 4 February, in four people that had contact with travellers from Mainland China. The transmission cases have since then been increasing and found in people who neither had a travel history to China nor did come in direct close contact with people who recently arrived from China.

Majority of the Singapore coronavirus cases have no recent travel history to China, raising an alarm over further potential increase in transmitted cases.

A number of human-to-human transmissions were identified at clusters linked to places of worship such as the Grace Assembly of God. The Singaporean government is identifying such transmission clusters and attempting to minimise further spread of the disease.

Other COVID 19 Singapore transmission clusters identified in Singapore include an office building in which Wizlearn Technologies is located, a business meeting held at Grand Hyatt Singapore, The Life Church and Missions Singapore, and Seletar Aerospace Heights construction site.

How novel coronavirus cases in Singapore are rising

 

Is Singapore at high risk from coronavirus?

Singapore receives the sixth-highest number of travellers from 18 high-risk cities in Mainland China, according to WorldPop data compiled by the University of Southampton, which also reflects in the high number of cases currently confirmed in the country.

Coronavirus risk raised to DORSCON Orange

Following the identification of local coronavirus cases that are neither linked to previous cases or to those with a travel history to China, Singapore raised its risk assessment of the novel coronavirus from DORSCON Yellow to DORSCON Orange, on 07 February.

Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) colour-coded framework adopted by Singapore shows the prevailing disease situation in four levels – the lowest being Green (level-1) and the highest being Red (level-4). Orange, which is the third level, is just one level short of Red.

Coronavirus measures in Singapore

The Singaporean government has announced a number of control measures since reporting the first coronavirus case in the country.

Air borders closed with Mainland China – strict measures at airports

The Singaporean government has imposed restrictions to control community spread by disallowing passengers from Mainland China.

It ceased all inbound flights from Wuhan, China, since 23 January and issues travel advisory to its residents to avoid non-essential travel to Mainland China and defer travel plans to Hubei province. Thermal screening is implemented at checkpoints – land, air and sea.

Fresh as well as issued visas of Chinese passport holders have been suspended.

Mandatory leave of absence (LoA) for Singaporeans

Singapore citizens returning to their homeland are placed on 14-day paid leave-of-absence (LoA) starting from the day they arrive. Employees are required to grant the LoA over and above the annual leave entitlement.

While LoA is applicable to Singapore citizens, PRs and long-term pass holders returning from China, visitors of all other nationalities with a travel history to Mainland China in the preceding 14 days are denied not only to enter Singapore but also to transit through the country.

People with a recent travel history to Hubei are quarantined. The government has warned that severe penalties will be imposed if the quarantine orders are not complied with.

Advisories issued by the Ministry of Health

The Ministry of Health, Singapore has issued advisories for different sectors. Apart from the common measures, the Ministry has advised staff working in the healthcare sector to avoid contact with live animals including poultry and birds. It also recommends avoiding the consumption of raw and undercooked meats.

A specific advisory has also been rolled out to schools across the country to adopt measures such as suspending school assemblies and staggering recesses.

In view of the consistent increase in cases, the Singapore MoH issued a fresh travel advisory to employees and employers on 04 March to postpone travel to Hubei province in China and to defer non-essential travel to mainland China, South Korea, Iran, Japan and certain regions in northern Italy where coronavirus transmission is high.

Entry restrictions on workpass holders

Workpass holders planning to enter Singapore after traveling in Mainland China, South Korea, Italy and Iran, which have been witnessing community transmission, in the preceding 14 days are required to take a prior approval from the Singapore Ministry of Manpower.

Large-scale business events advised to be postponed

The Ministry of Health advised businesses to defer large-scale events, defined as those with more than 1,000 attendees.

Small-scale events, however, are recommended to be continued but with temperature-screening done and avoiding participants with recent travel history to Mainland China or those under LoA.

Joint Working Group with Malaysia

Singapore announced the formation of a joint working group (JWG) with Malaysia to tackle the spread of the disease between the two countries.

The JWG will share technical details, exchange information on the coronavirus situation in their respective countries and follow similar border screening protocols. It will also share surveillance data and national advisories issued to the public.

Anti-profiteering measures

The Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) issued notices to a number of companies that it suspects to have engaged in profiteering from the coronavirus situation in the country.

Retailers Deen Express and 3 Stars were issued notices for selling masks at a higher price to benefit from the increased demand. Four e-commerce platforms Lazada, Carousell, Qoo10 and Shopee have been issued similar notices to address the profiteering practices by sellers on their platforms.

MTI, further, inspected the registered address, warehouse and multiple retail outlets of 3 Stars, which furnished incomplete information and documentation in response to the Ministry’s notice and continued its profiteering pricing practice. MTI found evidences of significant price increases following which 3 Stars apologised and started selling the masks at a lower price.

Coronavirus impact on Singapore

The ongoing coronavirus spread is expected to affect the transport and tourism sectors and associated industries and companies. Air traffic through Changi, which is one of the world’s most interconnected hubs, is expected to decline and hotel room cancellations are anticipated.

Businesses/sectors affected by coronavirus in Singapore

The accommodation and food service sector, which performed well in 2019, is expected to slow-down due to the lockdowns and travel restrictions resulting from coronavirus disease fears. The manufacturing sector, which already contracted by 1.4% in 2019, is expected to witness a further decline in 2020 due to the knock-on impact of industrial production disruption in China.

The Singapore MTI has also acknowledged that a sharp fall in tourists is affecting the tourism and transport sectors of the country. Hotel, travel, cruise and air transport businesses are expected to be hit affecting the retail and food services sectors too.

Economic impact: GDP growth forecast revised downwards

MTI cut its GDP forecast for 2020 to 0.5%, the forecast range being -0.5% to 1.5%, indicating a possible drop in GDP, attributed partly to the coronavirus outbreak. MTI earlier, in November 2019, forecasted a higher GDP growth rate of 0.5% to 2.5%.

China being the biggest trading partner to Singapore, the ongoing coronavirus outbreak is expected to have an adverse impact on Singapore’s economy.

Singapore Budget 2020: Fiscal and non-fiscal measures to reduce coronavirus impact

The Singapore Ministry of Finance has announced a set of relief measures to businesses and individuals affected in these industries, such as improving short-term liquidity flow and providing for part of wage costs of workers to improve retention and provide training during the period of the outbreak.

The 2020 budget, proposed on 18 February, has set aside benefits worth S$6.4bn ($4.6bn), as detailed below.

Coronavirus update from 2020 Budget: COVID-19 stabilisation and support package

In order to safeguard the economy from the disruption and uncertainties caused by the coronavirus outbreak, Singapore announced S$4bn ($2.87bn) in a Stabilisation and Support Package during the 2020 budget announcements on 18 February.

Measures to improve employee retention and co-funding wage increase

A Jobs Support Scheme worth S$1.3bn ($935.5m) has been announced to help firms retain employees during the period of uncertainty. The Wage Credit Scheme is enhanced to include monthly wages up to S$5,000 to qualify for the government co-funding wage increases by employers in both 2019 and 2020. The earlier limit on the scheme was S$4,000.

Short-term liquidity and tax rebates to companies

The 2020 budget also proposed to give a corporate income tax rebate to firms in the new assessment year, along with other tax benefits such as allowing for a higher depreciation rate.

Short-term liquidity is proposed to be improved by enhancing the working capital limit under the Enterprise Financing Scheme.

Coronavirus Care and Support package for households

The Budget 2020 proposed to allocate S$1.6bn ($1.15bn) to support the living costs of those affected by the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak. Additionally, S$800m ($575.7m) is allocated to support front-line agencies battling with the coronavirus.