SINGAPORE: Singapore will restrict entry of people with recent travel history to seven African countries after reports that a potentially more contagious COVID-19 variant may be circulating there, the Ministry of Health said on Friday.
From 11.59 PM (local time) on Saturday, all long-term pass holders and short-term visitors with travel history within the last 14 days to Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe will not be allowed to enter Singapore or transit here.
The restrictions also apply to those who have obtained prior approval for entry into Singapore.
Singapore citizens and permanent residents returning from these countries will have to serve a 10-day stay-home notice at a dedicated facility.
"There have been recent reports of a potentially more contagious variant of the COVID-19 virus, the B.1.1.529, which may be circulating in Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe," the Channel News Asia quoted the MOH as saying.
"Scientists around the world are still finding out more about the new variant of virus, such as whether it is more transmissible than the Delta variant, whether it is more likely to lead to severe illnesses, and efficacy of existing vaccines against this new variant."
While Singapore currently has no cases of this variant, "we should take the necessary precautions to reduce the risks" of it spreading here, the MOH said.
South Africa was previously a Category II country with travellers serving a seven-day stay-home notice at their declared place of accommodation after arriving in Singapore.
It has now been reclassified as a Category IV country. The other six are Category IV countries, with arriving travellers with recent travel history to these countries currently required to serve a 10-day stay-home notice at dedicated facilities.
Singapore ranks countries from Category I to IV to determine what type of travel restrictions are put in place. The new border restrictions will initially apply for four weeks, and the MOH will review and extend the restrictions if necessary.
"While the variant has been suggested to be more transmissible, there is currently insufficient evidence to determine if this variant is associated with any change in disease severity, antibody response or vaccine efficacy. These aspects are being investigated," the MOH said.
"The Ministry of Health will evaluate the data as it emerges and review our border measures accordingly," the Channel quoted the ministry as saying.
Meanwhile, Singapore reported 1,275 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday, down from 2,079 on Wednesday and the lowest daily tally since September 21.
Three people aged between 69 and 74 died of complications linked to COVID-19, the MOH said.
The latest deaths take the total number of fatalities in Singapore to 681.
The new infections comprised 1,228 cases in the community, 31 in migrant worker dormitories and 16 imported cases.
The total number of cases in Singapore now stands at 258,785.