Singapore: Effects of the Coronavirus Outbreak

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published on 31 March 2020 | reading approx. time 2 minutes

On 7 February 2020, the Singapore Ministry of Health raised the Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (DORSCON) level for Covid-19 to from yellow to orange. This heightened risk assessment was accompanied by new immigration regulations and employment/human resources advisories.

 

Entry restrictions

All visitors – who are not Singapore citizens, permanent residents or long-term pass holders – are denied entry into Singapore, or transit through Singapore. This does not affect visitors who are already in Singapore.

 

All returning Singapore citizens, permanent residents and long-term pass holders are subject to a Stay-Home Notice (SHN). These individuals are not allowed to leave their residences for any reason for 14 days. Random checks will be carried out by the Singapore Immigration and Checkpoints Authority and the Ministry of Manpower (MOM). Travellers returning from the UK or US will be housed in dedicated facilities.

 

Employers must request for the MOM's approval before work pass holders and their dependants can enter Singapore. The MOM has announced that approval will only be granted to employers who provide essential services (e.g. healthcare and transport) and are supported by the relevant government agencies. Therefore, many work pass holders will be denied entry. In return, the validity of in-principal approvals will be extended automatically by 2 months.

 

Employers who are granted approval shall comply with additional obligations related to the SHN such as ensuring a suitable place of residence. They ought make sure that employees stay away from their workplace but may adopt flexible work arrangements like work from home. If the latter is not possible, the employer may afterwards apply for a relief of SGD 100 per day and a levy waiver for foreign workers under the SHN Support Programme. Furthermore, it is the employer's duty to provide meals or daily necessities for their employees on SHN.

 

Individuals with a Hubei travel history within the last 14 days are quarantined. Quarantined employees are deemed to be on paid hospitalisation leave.

 

All travellers entering Singapore have to submit a health declaration within 3 days before their arrival. Those who exhibit symptoms of respiratory illness like fever will be required to undergo a COVID-19 swab test at the checkpoint.

 

Safe Distancing Measures

Until 30 April 2020, safe distancing measures with legal force are in place. Gatherings outside of work and school are limited to 10 persons. Events and mass gatherings are cancelled. All bars and entertainment venues are closed. Restaurants have to ensure a safety distance of one metre between groups of diners. Public venues like retail malls must reduce their operating capacity. All religious services are suspended.

 

Penalties

Failure to comply with the regulations makes the perpetrator liable for prosecution. As of 21 March 2020, the MOM has additionally revoked 89 work passes and suspended the work pass privileges of the respective employers. Operators of public venues in breach of the safe distancing measures may have their operations suspended.
 

Business Continuity Plans (BCPs)

The MOM advises employers to develop BCPs. They should in particular consider split team arrangements and work from home. The employees' temperature should be checked at least twice a day and unwell employees should be asked to leave the office and see a doctor. Furthermore, visitors/customers should be logged and temperature screened where feasible. Frontline staff should be instructed on how to handle customers who are unwell.

 

Although advisories are technically not law, they should be observed to protect the employee's health and avoid bad publicity or even liability.

 

Impact on the Singapore economy

COVID-19 has already affected the Singaporean economy. In the first quarter of 2020, the economy contracted by 10.6 per cent, which is a decline of 2.2 per cent compared to the first quarter of 2019. While the Singapore Ministry of Trade and Industry initially forecast an economic growth of between 0.5 and 2.5 per cent for 2020, it downgraded this forecast by 1 per cent to between -0.5 and 1.5 per cent.
 

To counteract the impending economic crisis, Deputy Prime Minister Heng announced a “Resilience Budget” of 48 billion SGD on 26 March 2020. Among others, it is planned to comprise the co-funding of local employees with 25 to 75 per cent, the deferment of income tax by three months, a property tax rebate, and a credit scheme with a volume of 20 billion SGD.

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