S’PORE IMPOSES VISA RESTRICTIONS ON EBOLA-INFECTED WEST AFRICAN COUNTRIES

From tomorrow, nationals from the West African states of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will need a visa to enter the Republic, as vigilance against the Ebola virus continues.

“(The ministry) is concerned about the widespread and intense community transmission of Ebola in West Africa. The visa requirement will allow for better oversight of the entry of nationals from these countries, as well as facilitate possible contact tracing,” Minister of State (Health) Dr Lam Pin Min said in Parliament yesterday.

It will also allow the authorities to inform visa applicants from the three countries of Singapore’s Ebola health advisory and the actions that need to be taken should they develop symptoms while en route to, or during their stay in, the country, he added.

The visa requirement comes on top of earlier measures to contain any Ebola outbreak here, including screening travellers from Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo at Singapore airports.

Travellers entering the Republic through Changi Airport, Seletar Airport and the land and sea checkpoints will need to complete the Health Declaration Card.

Noting that three Ebola cases involving healthcare workers outside West Africa had resulted from breaches in infection control measures, Dr Lam said healthcare workers here have been trained on the proper use of personal protective equipment, while hospitals are reminded to adhere to stringent infection control protocols.

The Health Ministry will continue to work with the National Infection Prevention and Control Committee (NIPC) and other experts to review its protocols and ensure that hospitals here are competent in managing suspected and confirmed Ebola cases, he added.

In response to Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC Dr Chia Shi-Lu’s suggestion to ban travel to and from Ebola-hit countries, Dr Lam said decisions to impose such restrictions are based on several principles, including recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) and local experts, such as the NIPC.

In an Oct 23 statement on its website, the WHO had recommended against any ban on international travel or trade, as it is “likely to cause economic hardship and could consequently increase the uncontrolled migration of people from affected countries, raising the risk of international spread of Ebola”.

Dr Lam said Singapore adopts a discriminate and stratified approach in screening inbound travellers from West African countries. Those found with symptoms of the disease will be sent to Tan Tock Seng Hospital for further assessment.

Those who are well but identified as having possible exposure to the Ebola virus will be quarantined or placed under surveillance for up to 21 days.

He also acknowledged the need to prevent fear-mongering among Singaporeans and stressed that the Ebola virus “is not easily spread from one person to another”.

Transmission is not airborne and requires close contact with those infected, he said.

Rapid test kits for the Ebola virus have been developed, but none have been approved for use here, Dr Lam added.

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