Coronavirus Spike Forces Singapore to Ban Hospital Visits, Prosecute ‘Social Distancing’ Violators

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AFP

Singapore announced a ban on most hospital visits and expanded fine and criminal prosecution for violators of stricter social distancing measures on Thursday. The heightened measures come amid a spike in new coronavirus cases in Singapore this week.

“All public hospitals, private hospitals, and community hospitals will minimize visitation for inpatients with the intent to reduce non-essential movements and contact time,” Singapore’s Ministry of Health (MOH) announced on Thursday. Singapore had previously allowed just one visitor per hospital patient at a time amid the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the MOH says only hospital patients in certain cases may be visited by one caregiver at a time, on compassionate grounds or where it is essential for the well-being of the patient.

On Tuesday, Singapore began cracking down on people’s movement as part of what the government is branding a “circuit breaker” period until May 4, to stem the spread of the Chinese coronavirus. The nation has seen a spike in its number of new coronavirus cases over the past week.

Social gatherings, public or private, are banned under the stricter mandates. Most workplaces, except for essential services, are also closed. People who repeatedly disregard the heightened social distancing measures will face a fine or criminal prosecution. First-time offenders will receive a written advisory. Anyone committing a second offense will be fined S$300 ($211), and a third offense will lead to the person being charged in court.

“From today, our enforcement officers will immediately take down the particulars of anyone found to be in breach of elevated safe distancing measures,” Masagos Zulkifli, a Singapore government minister, said on Thursday. More than 3,000 warnings were issued to people breaking the social distancing rules on Wednesday, and roughly 10,000 advisories were handed out on Monday and Tuesday.

Enforcement of social distancing measures “will be stepped up, with more than 2,500 officers spread across the island,” said Lawrence Wong, Singapore’s national development minister, on Thursday. He added that the government would tighten current measures if the situation worsened, placing further restrictions on people’s movement if necessary.

Singapore recorded its highest single-day surge on Thursday, with 287 new coronavirus cases. Among the new cases, 70 percent (202 cases) were linked to clusters at foreign worker dormitories.

“That’s why we need a different strategy, a dedicated strategy for our foreign worker dormitories because there is a greater spread of the virus in these dormitories, and there are also higher transmission rates, given the large numbers of workers living in close quarters,” said Lawrence Wong, national development minister and co-head of Singapore’s coronavirus task force.

Wong added that the infected workers had very mild symptoms, explaining an apparent delay in recording these cases, and suggested it was very likely the virus had been going around “for some time” in the dormitories.

Since Monday, 380 to 400 members from the Singapore Armed Forces and Singapore Police Force have been deployed to take over the operation of dormitories, Singapore manpower minister Josephine Teo said. Authorities are also relocating workers who are not sick to other venues, including military camps.

On April 5, authorities announced the lockdown of two foreign worker dorms after a spike in infections there. About 20,000 male workers are now quarantined in their rooms for 14 days, until April 19. Two more dormitories have since been locked down, it was reported on Thursday. Roughly 200,000 foreign workers are housed in dormitories in Singapore.

One of the worst-hit countries when the Wuhan coronavirus first spread from Wuhan, China, late last year, Singapore’s strict surveillance and quarantine regime had appeared to slow the outbreak. However, the recent surge in cases in Singapore has raised concern over how easily the coronavirus can return, even after a rigorous lockdown.

At press time on Thursday, Singapore had 1,910 infections and six deaths from the Chinese coronavirus.

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