Singapore's ban on travellers with recent travel history to India is not targeted at any nationality, but is aimed at addressing the risk posed by a place with a high incidence of COVID-19 infections, a senior minister said here on Monday.
The move to bar all long-term pass holders and short-term visitors who have travelled to India within the last 14 days from entering or transiting through Singapore took effect from April 23. It came as Singapore went into "heightened alert" against COVID-19.
A traveller who has left India but stayed in another country before flying to Singapore would not have the same level of risk as someone who came directly from India, said Transport Minister Ong Ye Kung.
Ong, who becomes Health Minister from May 15 under a Cabinet reshuffle announced last week, was responding to a question about Indian nationals flying in from other countries to bypass a travel ban on long-term pass holders and short-term visitors who have travelled to India within the last 14 days.
Reports of such incidents have sparked concern among some members of the public.
Ong explained that anyone staying in one place long enough would assume the risk profile of that place, regardless of nationality.
"If your policy is to target risk, then for someone from a high-risk country to move to a lower-risk country, stay there for some time, and after that remain non-Covid positive... and then come to Singapore, actually, you have lowered the risk tremendously in that process," The Straits Times quoted the minister as saying.
In response to another query about whether it would be possible for a traveller to bypass restrictions by leaving India for another country, before almost immediately flying to Singapore, Ong said this would not be possible as Singapore requires the traveller to spend 14 days outside of India.
Ong's remarks came after Education Minister Lawrence Wong, who is co-chair of the task force tackling the COVID-19 pandemic, said last week the situation in India had worsened.
He said the stay-home notice (SHN) period was not "100 per cent foolproof", stressing that any leaks among newly arrived Indian workers could possibly introduce new strains into dormitories and result in new clusters.
Wong said the temporary ban on arrivals from India would give Singapore time to monitor the situation and understand the risks.
The Ministry of Manpower, in response to queries about the issue of workers from India attempting to bypass border restrictions to enter Singapore, said it adjusts entry approvals dynamically, depending on the global COVID-19 situation and risk levels of countries and regions that work pass holders come from.
"Approvals are staggered to manage the importation risk of COVID-19 cases. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and adjust our measures as necessary to balance public health interest and economic objectives," said the ministry.
The restrictions on travellers from India has reportedly hit the city state's labour-intensive industries, especially the construction sector.
Construction firms will get more flexibility to hire workers from China and more time to complete public sector projects as part of support measures announced on Monday, reported the Channel News Asia.
This is to mitigate the effects of a ban on long-term pass holders and short-term visitors from India after the country recorded a spike in COVID-19 cases.
"This move impacts the flow of Indian workers into Singapore as well as companies in the construction sector that are dependent on them," said the Building & Construction Authority on Monday.
On Monday, India set a global record for the rise in daily COVID-19 cases for a fifth straight day with 352,991 infections. The number of COVID-19 deaths jumped to a record high of 2,812 over the last 24 hours.