25 Mar 2020

Parliamentary Reply on Enforcement of Stay Home Notices - Speech by Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law

1. Mr Speaker Sir, the Stay Home Notice (SHN) regime/framework was first issued to persons who were returning from specified countries - countries that we thought were higher-risk.

 

2. But since then, of course, the COVID-19 situation across the world has grown considerably worse.

 

3. So on 22 March, we announced that all short-term visitors will not be allowed to enter into Singapore, or transit through Singapore. So in other words, no more tourists. No more short stays.

 

4. But Singapore residents, Long-Term pass holders will obviously have to come back. And all of them will be placed under SHN, from 23 March.

 

5. And it works this way. It means that Singaporeans won’t be stranded overseas, they can come back, they can get access to our healthcare systems.

 

6. But those who are served with SHNs also have a responsibility. They should not put the wider community at risk.

 

7. SHN means exactly that – they have to remain in their place of residence at all times during the 14-day period. And that’s a non-negotiable condition.

 

8. Persons on SHN are required to monitor their health closely. They have to minimise their contact with others even at home, and avoid having visitors. They cannot leave the house, obviously, and they have to seek immediate medical attention if feeling unwell.

 

9. This is because persons under SHN carry some risks of having the virus by virtue of their travel history, or by virtue of their contact with others who may have had COVID-19.

 

10. And to ensure compliance with the SHNs, we conduct enforcement checks. They include surveillance using SMS-web based solutions and mobile applications. People are expected to be at home when contacted, obviously. Those who do not respond to the messages will be called, and there are also house visits, unannounced, by enforcement officers.

 

11. And there are serious consequences for non-compliance. We have Section 21A of the Infectious Diseases Act.[1] If you have breached the SHN that could expose others to risks of infection, first time offenders could face a jail term of up to six months, a fine of up to $10,000 or both. For a repeat offender, a jail term of up to 12 months, a fine of up to $20,000, or both.

 

12. MOH will be setting out new regulations under the Infectious Diseases Act, specifically focusing on the penalties for Stay Home Notice breaches. The jail term could be up to six months, a $10,000 fine could be imposed, or both.

 

13. And if you are not a Singapore citizen – if you are a PR, Long-Term Visit Pass holder, Dependant’s Pass holder, or Student’s Pass holder, where appropriate, we will not hesitate to revoke these passes, shorten their validity,[2] and also bar re-entry into Singapore. So, passes could be cancelled. If you are a short-term visitor, you could be asked to leave Singapore immediately, and barred from re-entry forever.

 

14. Foreign employees could have their work passes revoked and be repatriated[3] For students, action can be taken by schools, including suspension or dismissal.

 

15. Where there has been a breach of SHN, and we have known about it, action has been taken. I think Members may recall that when the SHNs were first introduced, there was a 45-year-old Permanent Resident. He was served with such a notice. He arrived at Changi Airport. He had a travel history to mainland China at that point, and failed to respond to our calls. When enforcement checks were done, he was not at home. And then he was seen at Changi Airport, wanting to leave Singapore. Clearly a breach of his SHN. So his application for the renewal of his Re-entry Permit[4] was rejected by ICA and his PR status therefore was effectively revoked when he left Singapore, and he has been barred from coming back into Singapore. So, quite serious penalties.

 

16. We have another case. NIE terminated a foreign student from his postgraduate course, again for breaching his SHN, and for repeatedly providing false information to NIE regarding his travel movements. His student pass was also terminated.

 

17. I think Dr Lee’s questions may have been prompted by some of the messages that many of us have seen going around about recent returnees, particularly from the United Kingdom (UK), that they are going out to eat local food; they hold birthday parties in their homes; they interact with friends; they go to clubs, bars, and so on, while they were under SHN. Many Singaporeans get upset when they hear about this.


18. I think either today or yesterday, another case was reported in an online site, Mothership: A Singaporean returning from Myanmar was apparently issued with SHN, but he went out to have Bak Kut Teh and posted about it on his Facebook page. I have asked for that case to be investigated.

 

19. We are trying to verify some of these messages on SHNs being flouted, and if anyone - members of the public - have information about such behaviour, please give it to the Police. We will follow-up and we cannot allow such behaviour. I have given very clear instructions, that where these cases are verified to be true, we will charge in Court.

 

20. The second point is when people are required to declare their travel history, there has to be honesty.

 

21. Where false information is given, in order to avoid SHNs, there can be prosecution. Section 182 of the Penal Code[5] carries a jail term of up to two years, fine, or both. Also, section 57(1)(g) of the Immigration Act[6] also carries a jail term of up to 12 months, up to a $4,000 fine, or both.

 

22. There is a wider duty that each of us owes to control the spread of COVID-19, and this is really not to endanger others and expose them to infection.

 

23. One story going around (again one we are trying to verify) is that an individual who was said to have gone on holiday to Italy, developed symptoms of COVID-19. He had a cough, a fever, breathlessness. This person apparently hid his symptoms, and travel history, in order to get on a plane to come back to Singapore. Later in Singapore, he was admitted to hospital, fell very ill, and was found to be carrying the virus.

 

24. If this is true, the conduct is highly irresponsible. If he knew that there was a significant risk that he was infected, but kept silent and went on the flight, then he did so knowing that others could be infected.

 

25. I can understand that as a Singaporean anxious to come home to his family - he is confident about our healthcare system, he wants to be here. But not at the risk of endangering other people’s well-being. He should have declared his symptoms at check-in, then the airline would have made a considered decision whether to allow the person to fly, and if so, with what sorts of precautions. There cannot be the unacceptable risk of infecting others.


26. And, we also received feedback from health care workers that some people are not truthful with their travel history when they see their GPs. Again, highly irresponsible. You know our health care professionals, as Minister Gan has said, are a key asset in this fight. They are in the frontline, and we all have to support them and not expose them in this way.

 

27. On 23 March, ICA announced that travellers into Singapore will have to fill in electronic health declarations from 27 March onwards.

 

28. ICA will share the information in the electronic health declarations with the Ministry of Health so that they will know if a person has travelled to a high risk country. That information will allow us to identify persons who may be at risk, take precautions, and provide them with the appropriate medical care.

 

29. Mr Speaker Sir, the Government has put in place strict regulations and a strong enforcement framework, but regulation and strong enforcement are not going to be enough on their own if people continue to insist on being irresponsible. All Singaporeans have to do our part - exercise social responsibility, protect ourselves, friends, family and fellow citizens.

 

30. We are doing our best. The public officials - you heard Minister Lawrence - have been working around the clock and it has really been quite an exhausting few months for them. But this is a common fight. Most Singaporeans - you see it from the reactions - most Singaporeans, a vast majority of Singaporeans, are responsible, understand this, and have come together and have acted admirably.

 

31. But there will always be a few who are irresponsible in every society, and they risk undoing our efforts and put other people’s lives at risk. So if members of the public know of Stay Home Notices being flouted or breached, please tell the Police. We will take action against them. We have to take action against them.

 

32. When we come together as a people looking out for one another, we will prevail and we will overcome this COVID-19 situation.

 

33. Thank you.



[1] Section 21A(1) of the Infectious Diseases Act states: A person who knows, or has reason to suspect, that he is a case or carrier or contact of a disease set out in the Second Schedule shall not expose other persons to the risk of infection by his presence or conduct in any public place or any other place used in common by persons other than the members of his own family or household.

 

[2] An immigration pass is issued subject to the condition under Regulation 8(4) of the Immigration Regulations that the pass holder shall, if so required by the Controller of Immigration, undergo quarantine and medical surveillance in accordance with such requirements as the Controller may determine. Pursuant to this condition, a pass holder is required to observe the requirements of the SHN.

 

[3] The Controller of Work Passes may at any time vary or revoke any of the existing conditions of a work pass or impose new conditions. As an additional condition of your work pass, you must comply with the SHN.

 

[4] A Re-entry Permit allows a person to retain his or her PR status while outside of Singapore.

[5] Section 182 of the Penal Code states: Whoever gives to any public servant any information which he knows or believes to be false, intending thereby to cause, or knowing it to be likely that he will thereby cause, such public servant to use the lawful power of such public servant to the injury or annoyance of any person, or to do or omit anything which such public servant ought not to do or omit if the true state of facts respecting which such information is given were known by him, shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 2 years, or with fine, or with both.

 

[6] Section 57(1)(g) read with s 57(1)(vi) states: 57.—(1) Any person who — (g) resists or obstructs, actively or passively, any immigration officer in the execution of his duty; … shall be guilty of an offence and — … (vi) in the case of an offence under paragraph (f), (g), (h), (i), (j), (k) or (l), shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $4,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months or to both.

 

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