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Wuhan virus: Some workers, students returning to Singapore from China will have to take mandated 14-day leave of absence

SINGAPORE — Some workers and students returning to Singapore from China from Tuesday (Jan 28) will have to take a 14-day leave of absence, as the city-state raises its guard against the Wuhan virus.

A thermal scanner set up at Changi Airport Terminal 3.

A thermal scanner set up at Changi Airport Terminal 3.

SINGAPORE — Some workers and students returning to Singapore from China from Tuesday (Jan 28) will have to take a 14-day leave of absence (LOA), as the city-state raises its guard against the Wuhan virus.

This will be mandated for all Ministry of Education (MOE) schools, which include MOE kindergartens, primary and secondary schools, special education schools, junior colleges and the Millennia Institute, polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education (ITE).

The LOA will start from the day after one's arrival in Singapore. It applies to students and staff in polytechnics and ITE who return from China on Jan 14 or later, and those from schools who return on Jan 15 or later.

The LOA will also apply to staff in public and private healthcare institutions who have travelled to China recently.

Affected students in schools will be supported by a home-based learning plan.

Schools will also start daily temperature-taking exercises from Wednesday.

The authorities hope the precautions implemented will mitigate the risks and help schools and institutions continue with normal activities, and avoid the need for school closure.

As of Monday, there are 92 suspect cases in Singapore, of which four are confirmed.

A total of 46 have tested negative for the Wuhan coronavirus, while test results for 42 other cases are still pending.

In China, the virus has killed at least 80 people and infected 2,700, prompting Chinese authorities to highlight the grave and escalating risks of further infections in the mounting health crisis.

This has also prompted Singapore to upgrade its travel advisory to China to urge Singaporeans to defer all non-essential travel plans to the whole of China, and not just the affected cities and provinces alone.

MANDATORY LEAVE OF ABSENCE

Speaking at a ministerial press conference on Monday, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said: "Given the continued worsening of the situation in China, we have decided for a need for a further step-up of our measures to minimise risk of more imported cases, to contain, identify and to minimise the chances of the virus spreading in Singapore."

"We will take extra precaution for those returning from China, and we are doing it now because we are fully expecting more to come back from Chinese New Year," added Mr Wong, who co-chairs an inter-ministry taskforce in charge of the situation with Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

A total of 10 political office holders from the multi-ministry taskforce on the Wuhan coronavirus were present to address the media.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who was at the briefing, said that more than 800 students and staff from schools and tertiary institutions have been to China in the past 14 days.

"For students who are on LOA, this is not an extended holiday, we will support your learning and education," said Mr Ong.

"All your systems are online on Student Learning Spaces. Teachers will make extra effort to reach out to them…

"This is not 14 days of play at home. We will work together with parents and students. This is a necessary precaution during this period."

Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee said at the briefing that about 1,000 preschoolers and some 500 to 600 preschool teachers have gone to China for various reasons.

He added that the authorities will be visiting the various preschools to check on the implementation of the mitigating measures.

Mr Ong said the education ministry is also engaging with private institutions and universities on their response plans, and he expects them to take similar precautions as the other government-owned or funded institutions.

At three accredited universities, namely the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Singapore Management University (SMU), have had selected student hostel blocks cleared out to be used as quarantine facilities, he added.

Affected residents in these blocks will be rehoused as the authorities prepare them for emergency use.

These include blocks of dormitories at the NUS’ Prince George’s Park Residences, NTU’s Graduate Hall 1 and SMU’s Prinsep Street Residences.

Mr Ong said he is aware of online chatter by students about having to move out of their apartments amid the cleanup effort.

He apologised for the inconvenience caused to students and sought their understanding as Singapore prepares for any contingencies. “This is part of the national response,” said Mr Ong.

Health Minister Gan warned that the situation is rapidly evolving, and the authorities will implement more measures when necessary.

"We expect cases to increase," he said. "Ultimately, a strong national response requires a whole-of-nation effort."

Related topics

Wuhan Wuhan virus pneumonia coronavirus

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