Senior Minister of State for Health, Janil Puthucheary (Puthucheary), has revealed in Parliament on Tuesday (16 Feb), that Singapore will not require those attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) special annual meeting in August 2021 which will be held in Singapore (as opposed to Davos where it is normally held amid Coronovirus fears) to serve a Stay-Home Notice (SHN).
As a safeguard to not requiring delegates of the WEF to serve SHNs, Puthucheary has said that both local and foreign attendees will be made to undergo rigorous testing for Covid-19. The utilisation of the TraceTogether technology will also be made compulsory for all attendees.
While it is understandable for authorities to want to bask in the limelight of being chosen to host the WEF, this relaxation of SHNs has unsurprisingly raised some eyebrows given Singapore’s recent uptake in foreign cases of Covid-19 which has in turn seen a spillover into local cases.
In December 2020, it was reported that a 66-year-old local cleaner who worked at Changi Airport and who lived at Yishun Ring Road tested positive Covid-19. She caught Covid-19 despite having donned personal protective equipment, including a face mask, face shield, gloves and gown at work.
In January 2021, it was reported that a 72-year-old Singaporean man, who worked as an aviation screening officer at Changi Airport Terminal 1, tested positive for the Coronavirus and was classified as an unlinked community case. This man ended up meeting 12 others for tennis.
Approximately two weeks ago, an import officer at Changi Airport also tested positive for Covid-19.
Circa one week ago, a 32-year-old Singaporean man who worked part-time as a waiter at Swensen’s located at Changi Airport Terminal 3 tested positive for the virus. While his father was part of another cluster of cases, it cannot be conclusively determined whether the son caught it from the father or vice versa.
Looking at the examples, it seems clear that there is a correlation between those who have come into contact with foreign cases and those who have contributed to the community spread. In other words, if we are not careful, foreign cases can easily become community ones. This can easily get out of hand if large numbers of foreign delegates descend on densely populated Singapore.
With that in mind, does it make sense not to require WEF delegates to serve SHNs?
Back In January 2021, Co-Chair of the Multi-Agency Taskforce for Covid-19, Lawrence Wong (Wong) had said that the Government was considering whether additional measures were necessary to ensure the COVID-19 transmission remained under control amid the recent spike in community cases. At that time, he made reference to the local cluster linked to a police para-vet and chastised those behind the recent cases who had not sought medical treatment despite falling ill with flu-like symptoms. Yet, it seems highly likely, looking at the numbers then, that foreign cases and community cases are inextricably linked.
On 21 January, there were 34 imported cases in Singapore. Among those, 33 were played on SHN upon arrival. However, one case is a Permanent Resident who arrived in Singapore for work. He tested negative on arrival and was on a controlled itinerary during his stay in the country. Unfortunately, he tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday.
This case shows that there is a risk that incoming travellers might first test negative but end up testing positive later, after being cleared to move around in the country based on their itinerary. With this in mind, it seems totally ridiculous for WEF delegates to be exempted from SHN requirements given that testing is not foolproof.
Singaporeans have had to endure harsh Circuit Breaker measures and adhere to strict rules that have affected their livelihoods and family life. They have donned masks and practised safe distancing in order to keep the country safe. Even Chinese New Year was affected. Singaporeans have made these sacrifices largely without complaint. To now say that large swathes of foreigners can come in without SHNs is surely a slap in the face and an insult to the sacrifice that Singaporeans have made.
Not to mention the many Singaporeans who have had to fork out money to stay in a hotel in order to fulfil their SHNs when coming home! Why is the Government seemingly prioritising well-heeled foreigners who are allowed to swan into the country? Is that fair? Is that the right message to send out?
When the news that Singapore was first hosting the WEF first broke, it was criticised as reckless. When the WEF was later postponed from May to August, it was pointed out that it was the organisation that had opted to delay the conference and not the Singapore Government! Looking at this, could one be forgiven for thinking that the Government does not really hold the welfare of its citizens as top priority?
The Australian Government ordered a shut down of Western Australia over one Covid-19 case. Western Australia’s Premier, Mark McGowan has said that while the state had “crushed” the outbreak before, it “cannot forget how quickly this virus can spread, nor the devastation it can cause.” These are perhaps words of caution that authorities in Singapore should heed.
After all, it was not too long ago that the coronavirus ravaged through our migrant worker communities living in dormitories, catching the Government off guard. That clearly showed how quickly the virus can spread if left unchecked and if we are not careful.
What’s the point of all the restrictions that have been placed on Singaporeans if foreign VIPs can simply come in? By exempting WEF delegates from SHNs, the Government might well be throwing all caution to the wind.