Singapore stops cruise visits as imported virus cases mount


Singapore said it will cease port calls for all cruise vessels with immediate effect, and bar the entry and transit of visitors with recent travel history to Italy, France, Spain and Germany, as coronavirus cases rise globally.

The temporary border restrictions for the European countries will come into effect from March 15, the health ministry said in a statement Friday. They will be reviewed regularly based on the global situation, it said.

Singaporeans were also advised to defer all non-essential travel to the four European countries as they “have had very high numbers of cases and very high rates of increase,” according to the government. They should exercise caution when traveling to all countries affected by the outbreak, including Indonesia, the Philippines and the United Kingdom, it said.

Though the government has said that border controls might be ineffective as the virus continues to spread globally, given the high number of imported cases, it decided there’s still a need to tighten border measures, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said at a press conference Friday.

This was guided by data and evidence, and not by “what other countries are doing,” Wong said, dismissing the notion the new border controls were prompted by U.S. measures to suspend travel from Europe.

Singapore’s move makes it at least the third country or territory in Asia to ban cruise ships from its ports. Malaysia and Hong Kong have already have closed their ports to all cruises. A growing number of countries, from Thailand to Vietnam, continue to turn away cruise ships on a case-by-case basis on coronavirus concerns.

The decision was made after the government studied the risks, data and evidence as well as out of concern that imported cases can come through cruises, Wong said.

“We do know that the nature of a cruise is such that there will be a lot of mingling and while we would like to have social distancing on cruises, I don’t know whether cruise operators are able to apply all of these measures. And if they are unable to, and an infected person were on board the cruise and infects more people on the ship, then it will be potentially very difficult,” he said.

Wong added that many cruise operators themselves recognised the risk and had suspended cruises of their own accord.

Here are the other measures Singapore is introducing to limit large crowds gathering in close proximity over a prolonged duration:

  • All ticketed cultural, sports and entertainment events, with 250 participants or more, are to be deferred or canceled
  • Employers should implement telecommuting and video-conferencing where possible, as well as stagger work hours and allow staff to commute at off-peak hours
  • Dining venues could set seats at least a meter apart; entertainment venues and tourist attractions such as casinos and theme parks could limit number of visitors at any one time

As of March 12, almost a quarter of the city-state’s total number of confirmed cases were imported. Of the 23 imported cases in the last 10 days, 13 had a travel history to Europe and six were from Indonesia, the government said.

In an address to the nation on Thursday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that while he expects more imported cases, the situation in Singapore remains under control. He also assured citizens that the government wasn’t going to lock down the city but would take steps to help firms and workers weather the economic fallout from the outbreak.