In light of the current global situation, the Singapore government last week issued a mandatory 14-day stay home notice for people returning to Singapore from other ASEAN countries, Japan, Switzerland or the UK effective 16th March 2020, 11:59PM. Only a few days later, the government expanded its scope and made it mandatory for residents returning from ANY country to stay home for 14 days.
I was in another ASEAN country when I first heard about the stay-home notice affecting returnees from ASEAN countries. Although there was a bit of a grace period, I could not return to Singapore prior to it kicking in as I was overseas due to an urgent personal matter. I eventually returned to Singapore on the 19th March, days after the restriction kicked in.
I arrived in Singapore and found the situation to be vastly different than from when I last departed just a week back. Upon disembarking from the plane, I noticed a lot of additional employees loitering around the aerobridge and the transit area. These are staff members checking on passengers who look visibly sick. As I walked through the transit area, one of them stopped me and took my temperature. This is apart from the thermal scanners which were already set in place during the early stage of the crisis.
As I took the escalator down, I again noticed people gathering around but different uniform this time. Immigration officers are now roaming around even before you reach the clearance gates to ask each and every arriving passenger where they come from and to hand out forms. I suppose that once the new rule covering all countries comes into effect, this question of where you came from will no longer be asked.
I was asked to fill out a form with my personal details, including my contact number and the address where I will be fulfilling my 14-day stay home notice.
The automatic clearance gates are also no longer being used and instead, returning residents now have to queue for manual immigration processing.
As I was one of the first passengers from my flight to reach immigration, there were only around 3 people ahead of me but it soon got longer once everyone else finished filling out the form. Even with just a handful of people ahead of me, it took quite a while to reach my turn due to the additional questions and explanations that each passenger had to go through at immigration. As a tip, I would suggest queuing first if you can and just fill out the form once you are in the queue to avoid having to wait a long time.
Upon reaching my turn, the immigration officer seemed to read from a standard script. I was discouraged from taking the MRT or bus to reach home and they suggested I take a cab. This is all up to the compliance of the passenger however, as no one actually checks which mode of transport you end up taking to reach your 14-day stay home notice address. There is also no specific timeframe given – i.e. no grace period of X minutes or hours was stated in order for one to reach home.
Beyond this point, the only notable thing about my exit from the airport was that customs now asked to have my luggage go through their x-ray machine even though I had nothing to declare. Out of the hundreds of times I arrived in Singapore, this was the first time I was asked to go through the x-ray.
Actual Duration of the 14-day Stay Home Notice
The immigration officer also clarified to me what the 14-day stay-home notice actually meant in terms of duration. It is not exactly 14-days as I initially thought. The day you land is considered Day 0. This “partial day” is actually not counted and you have to serve 14 full days after that in order to fulfill your stay-home notice. For instance, if you arrive at 10AM on March 19, your stay-home notice will only end 3rd April at midnight instead of 10AM of 2nd April.
I received quite a number of questions about my food supply at home and whether this is provided for by the government. For stay-home notice, the food supply is self-funded which I think is only fair. The stay-home notice does not totally prohibit one from directly facing other people but minimizing contact is suggested. It does not require isolation so if you live with other family members, you can ask them to buy for you. If you live alone, you can engage in a delivery service.
I’m on my third day now of my 14-day stay home notice and so far I have been checked a total of 6 times. Arriving residents can be checked in the following ways:
- Where the one serving stay-home notice has to click on a link to register one’s GPS whenever he/she receives an automated SMS from ICA.
- ICA may also call directly and ask one to send over images of one’s surroundings as proof of serving the notice.
- ICA may also send representatives over to actually check if one is at home.
I have so far only gotten the SMS checks and these were sent at random times of the day. No one has visited me yet and no one has called so far.
Times I’m Allowed to Leave Home
The simple answer is that no – one is not allowed to leave the stay-home notice address during the 14-day period. However, there are exceptions. For life-threatening cases such as cardiac arrest, active seizures, breathlessness, major traumas and stroke; people can call a number in order to seek assistance. For non-emergency medical matters, residents are directed to the People’s Association who can then make the necessary arrangements, such as a house visit by a doctor if need be.
Will the Stay-Home Notice Eat Into my Annual Leave?
As the issuance of stay-home notices become more common in the days and weeks to come, fewer employers (if any) are now giving exemptions from the usual annual leave whenever an employee needs to serve the 14-days. This is also a change from the earlier guideline issued by the Ministry of Manpower in February where they warned employers from deducting the absence period of an employee from his/her annual leave allocation. This means that for the most part, yes, the 14-day stay-home notice will eat into one’s annual leave or if that is used up, it may be counted as unpaid leave. The saving grace now is that more employers are implementing work-from-home arrangements so if your employer has that, then you may still be able to work while serving the notice.
As much as I’m one of the staunchest supporters for global travel (that’s precisely why I started this website), I really don’t think now is the right time to travel due to personal and societal implications. If you look at the personal aspect, there is a high chance you’ll get stuck somewhere as many countries impose visa cancellations and close their borders. On a societal front, postponing travel may be the responsible thing to do. Visiting certain countries where testing is not so robust may expose one to greater risk of catching the bug. As some people who have the virus can be asymptomatic, there is also the risk of spreading the disease to others after returning.
I would not have traveled recently if it were not for some urgent personal matters I had to attend to, and which I was not even able to finish. This crisis has affected billions of people in unimaginable ways. The responsible thing to do now is to do one’s part in stopping its spread. As of this writing, the Singapore government has made it difficult to travel but has stopped short of an outright ban. The government also notes that it still sees residents traveling. A total lockdown would probably be the last resort and I imagine that further measures to be implemented before an actual lockdown could involve an outright ban in traveling out of the country.