Covid-19: Some Singaporeans continue to travel overseas despite govt advisory warning against it

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on March 24, 2020 that despite the travel advisories, about 1,000 Singapore residents and long-term pass holders continue to travel abroad daily. ― TODAY file pic
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said on March 24, 2020 that despite the travel advisories, about 1,000 Singapore residents and long-term pass holders continue to travel abroad daily. ― TODAY file pic

SINGAPORE, March 25 — Last Tuesday (March 17), a group of 19 Singaporeans bundled in two minivans with luggage in tow and drove to Mersing to take a boat to Tioman Island, off the east coast of Malaysia. 

The group of extended family members, with ages ranging from four to 54, were in a rush to get into Malaysia before the country went into lockdown on March 18.

“We were worried that we might not get to see our relatives in the next few months due to the fact that Malaysia might extend their lockdown,” said Syaheat, 29.  

While Syaheat was aware of Malaysia’s plans to lockdown, he said he was unaware of Singapore’s advisory on urging non-essential travel overseas from March 16 for a period of 30 days.

MOH later announced an expansion of the travel advisory warning Singaporeans to defer all travel abroad from March 18.

“I’m not aware about the (travel advisories),” said Syaheat, a full-time student, adding that he was not worried about catching the virus in Tioman since there were no confirmed cases there. 

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday at a multi-ministry taskforce press conference that despite the travel advisories, about 1,000 Singapore residents and long-term pass holders continue to travel abroad daily. This was based on Immigration and Checkpoints Authority data.

In a bid to discourage Singaporeans and long term pass holders from travelling overseas, those who leave Singapore from March 27 (Friday) will be charged unsubsidised rates at public hospitals if they are admitted as a suspected Covid-19 patient within 14 days of returning.

All travellers entering Singapore with recent travel history to Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries, Japan, Switzerland or the United Kingdom in the last fortnight from March 16 will also be issued a 14-day stay-home notice.

Despite the government’s efforts to warn Singaporeans against travelling overseas, travellers whom TODAY spoke to said they had to go overseas for work commitments or did not want to waste the money they had already spent on the trip.

Their identities have been concealed as the government said on March 22 that those who travel overseas despite the travel advisories may face consequences. 

Syaheat said that most of his family members who had school or work have been issued a leave of absence for 14 days.

His friends have also expressed concern about his health as he had travelled to Malaysia.

His family had only planned to stay there for a short while but they had difficulties returning, he added.

“Initially our plan was to visit them for about one or two days then return to Singapore after that. But on March 18 we found out that the ferry services from Tioman Island back to mainland Malaysia was cancelled.”

They managed to board a ferry on March 20 when the ferry service resumed and tourists were advised to leave the island by the end of that week. They arrived in Singapore at 10.30pm that day.

He said he had no immediate plans to travel again.

“But if we see some improvement on the Covid-19 virus (situation) in future, then we will resume our travel plans,” he said, adding that they will only travel once the Government advisory is lifted.

Another traveller who spoke to TODAY, and who wanted to be known only as Mr Thakur, said that he travelled to India despite the advisory, because of urgent work commitments.

He departed for India on March 16 and returned to Singapore on March 18.

“I was worried about travelling due to the worsening virus situation, but I had no choice because this was my rice bowl,” said Thakur.

In addition to his reluctance to travel, the situation in India was chaotic, leaving him extremely anxious throughout his trip. 

“I was kicked out of my hotel in the middle of night as the hotel refused to take in foreigners. Thankfully, I managed to find a motel at a nearby place though the motel was shabby.”

Upon his return, his family decided to move out of their home and stay at a relative’s place to eliminate the risk of any potential infections.

“It’s for the best that they move out. I would never be able to forgive myself if something happens to them,” he said.

Another traveller who wanted to remain anonymous told TODAY that he had travelled to a country in South Asia for leisure because he felt that the situation there was not as bad as in Singapore.

He added that he did not want to waste the money that he had already spent on the trip and decided to proceed. He and his family of five left Singapore on March 16 and returned on March 20.

They have been issued with a 14-day stay-home notice upon their return to Singapore.

“I do not regret going. Whether I or my family get the virus is in the hands of God,” he said. ― TODAY

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