The Ministry of Health (MOH) noted "some public concern" about the Covid-19 situation in China, in light of announcements that the world's most populous country would relax its border measures on Jan. 8, 2023.
MOH said in a Dec. 30 press release that it was "closely watching the global Covid-19 situation worldwide" and acknowledged that China, currently facing a large infection wave, is "of particular concern" now.
The ministry outlined two specific reasons for concern — the possible emergence of new Covid-19 variants and the potential burden sick travellers could place on hospitals here — and explained that Singapore stands ready to reinstate border health measures "if warranted by the public health situation".
No new variants circulating in China
MOH is monitoring the possible emergence of new and more dangerous variants, in light of Covid-19 caseloads going up in many countries.
To keep track of the variants circulating globally, Singapore has been working with international partners, including global science initiative GISAID, which maintains a pathogen genomics database, said MOH.
MOH also conducts its own genomic surveillance on local and imported cases.
According to data from "various Chinese cities", there are no new variants circulating at the moment, said MOH.
"So far, based on the sequencing results submitted by the Centres for Disease Control of various Chinese cities, the strains circulating in China are known ones, and no new variants with greater transmissibility or severity than previously identified subvariants have been detected," said MOH.
MOH said another specific reason for concern was the potential for travellers to "add significant burden to our hospitals."
MOH said there are 700 to 1,000 daily arrivals from China, comprising mostly residents and long-term pass holders returning to Singapore.
There are 40 to 80 weekly Covid-19 cases among these travellers, according to MOH.
"All of them exhibited mild symptoms, except one returning Singaporean who had become severely ill after recent travel to China," MOH said.
It added that as air travel with China is progressively restored, Singapore will take a cautious approach towards increasing seat capacity, taking into account the overall public health assessment.
Singapore not tightening border controls
Countries like India, Italy, Japan, and the U.S. have announced new testing requirements for all travellers from China, MOH noted.
However, MOH said in a statement to the media on Dec. 28 that Singapore's current border controls and vaccination requirements would remain the same for Chinese travellers, and will be adjusted “should the need arise”.
The ministry pointed out on Dec. 31 that this was the same approach taken by "most EU countries, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and other Southeast Asian countries", as these countries are currently monitoring the situation and have not announced tightened border measures.
Singapore has maintained some of its Covid-19 border measures, MOH said, in contrast to countries which "fully lifted" theirs.
These measures, such as pre-departure testing for non-fully vaccinated travellers, reduce the risk of healthcare capacity being taken up by imported cases who are severely ill, said MOH.
Another measure currently in place for air and sea travellers is the requirement to submit a health declaration upon arrival.
"We will continue to maintain these prevailing vaccination requirements and border measures for non-fully vaccinated travellers," said MOH.
The ministry added:
"We are watching the situation closely, including both upstream developments and the loading on our own healthcare system. We stand ready to reinstate border health measures for selected countries if warranted by the public health situation."
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