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Covid-19: China given ‘heads-up’ before Singapore imposed travel bans, says Vivian Balakrishnan

SINGAPORE — The move to impose travel restrictions from coronavirus-hit China could have impacted bilateral relations, which was why Singapore made a “special effort" to explain why this measure was necessary, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament on Monday (March 2).

Covid-19: China given ‘heads-up’ before Singapore imposed travel bans, says Vivian Balakrishnan

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament on March 2, 2020 that Singapore had given China a "heads up" on travel restrictions relating to the Covid-19 outbreak before they were announced publicly.

SINGAPORE — The move to impose travel restrictions from coronavirus-hit China could have impacted bilateral relations, which was why Singapore made a “special effort" to explain why this measure was necessary, Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said in Parliament on Monday (March 2).

Singapore had given Chinese officials a “heads-up” before its public announcement on Jan 31, which had barred any new visitors of any nationality with recent travel history to mainland China from entering the city-state, said Dr Balakrishnan in the debate on his ministry’s budget.

He was addressing questions from Mr Vikram Nair, Member of Parliament (MP) for Sembawang Group Representation Constituency (GRC) and Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Joan Pereira on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' efforts during the Covid-19 outbreak.

In his speech, Dr Balakrishnan said that the disease has now spread globally and that diplomacy was key in coordinating information as well as repatriation missions for Singaporeans, when two flights brought back 266 Singaporeans and their families from Wuhan in China's Hubei province, the epicentre of the outbreak.

“Our embassy in Beijing had to coordinate closely with the PRC (People’s Republic of China) and Hubei provincial governments to arrange these repatriation missions,” he said.

Yet, Singapore was aware that its difficult decision to impose travel restrictions on travellers from mainland China could affect diplomatic relations, Dr Balakrishnan said.

These measures were not directed at any country, nationality or race, he stressed, adding that stringent measures were necessary to prevent the coronavirus from spreading in Singapore, or being re-exported to other countries.

In his speech, Mr Sam Tan, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, later explained in Mandarin that high-level officials in China had said that they understood why Singapore had to impose the travel restrictions.

“When Minister Balakrishnan spoke to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi over the phone early this year, he also thanked the Chinese government for their overwhelming assistance, for letting more than 200  Singaporeans and their families to smoothly leave Wuhan via an airplane and return to Singapore," Mr Tan said.

"At the same time, we also assisted Chinese citizens stranded in Singapore to return to Wuhan. We must continue to help China during this difficult period of fighting the virus.”

Dr Balakrishnan said that his Chinese counterpart had “conveyed China’s understanding of the actions we had taken due to the unique circumstances faced by Singapore”. China had also expressed their gratitude for Singapore’s efforts and support during the health crisis.

Singapore has sent testing equipment and test kits developed here to Wuhan, as well as personal protective equipment and other medical supplies. More than S$6 million were raised by the Singapore Red Cross for affected communities in China, he said.

Besides China, Dr Balakrishnan said that his ministry has also been working with the international community to tackle Covid-19, including the Special Meeting of the Asean Coordinating Council and the Special Asean-China Foreign Ministers Meeting in Vientiane, Laos last month, where delegates “reaffirmed the importance of openness, decisiveness and co-operation to collectively address the crisis”.

Related topics

China Vivian Balakrishnan Covid-19 coronavirus Wuhan virus travel ban

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