Stay-Home Notices (SHN) and quarantines have become second nature for many in Singapore and around the world this past year. Introduced to protect the local community from the risk of exposure to the COVID-19 virus possibly carried by travellers entering Singapore, SHN is a legal notice initiative that is subject to strict enforcement.
A little context.
First enforced on 18 February 2020, the stay-home notice was initially meant for Singapore residents returning to the country. From 20 March 2020, however, the rule was extended to apply to all travellers entering Singapore.
Depending on where the travellers are coming from, as well as the status of their residency here in Singapore, the period of SHN can be spent in one’s own residence or in a dedicated government selected facility.
These facilities have, thus far, mostly comprised hotels where guests on SHN would be segregated from other guests with only a select number of staff being allowed to access rooms and make deliveries.
While the basic parameters of the SHN have been somewhat fixed since its introduction, certain regulations, as well as enforcement guidelines, have had to be modified over time to suit the changing conditions of the pandemic.
While travellers housed in dedicated facilities have been easier to contain by way of restricted movement and on-site and electronic checks, some issues have arisen with those in non-dedicated facilities.
Travellers aged above 12 who were contained at dedicated facilities have even been required to wear electronic devices since 10 August last year. These wristwatch-like devices are equipped with Bluetooth and GPS technologies and are to be worn for the duration of the 14-day SHN period. These devices are issued at immigration checkpoints, such as the airport, and are digitally tethered to a mobile app to be downloaded to travellers’ phones.
Unfortunately, it has been harder to regulate the movement of travellers in their own residences. Despite the authorities being able to message, phone or video call travellers, and even visit them at home, there have been multiple cases of people breaching SHN.
Who’s breaking the rules?
In addition to the enforced restrictions, legal action has been taken against those who breach the confines of their SHNs. Cases of SHN breaches were seen as early as March last year, shortly after the implementation of the stay-home notice.
Following their return from Australia and Malaysia on 21 and 26 March 2020, respectively, Nurul Afiqah binte Mohammed and Mohd Noor Salam bin Mohd Yusof were issued their 14-day stay-home notices. The former breached the SHN on at least two instances, having left her residence on 2 and 3 April, and the latter breached his SHN on at least one instance on 2 April.
Nurul, who later tested positive for COVID-19, faces charges under Section 21A of the Infectious Diseases Act, while Noor will be charged under the Infectious Diseases (COVID-19 – Stay Orders) Regulations 2020.
Charges against those who breach SHN can be even more severe as in the case of Goh Illya Victor. The 53-year-old Singapore Citizen faces charges for travelling back to Indonesia on the same day following his arrival from Batam via Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal. Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA) has since cancelled his passport and Goh has been referred to the Ministry of Health for investigation of his breach of the SHN regulations.
Who is SHN enforced by?
Given the wide coverage necessitated by the SHN, the initiative is jointly enforced by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority (ICA), the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and the Ministry of Education (MOE). Depending on the individual’s reason for entry into Singapore, the enforcement of his or her SHN will be managed by the respective government body.
Where the Ministry of Manpower oversees the SHN for those on work pass, the Ministry of Education similarly oversees all who re-enter Singapore under student passes. All other travellers, including tourists, are handled by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority.
In light of the continuing pandemic situation, as well as a recent influx of imported cases including new strains of the virus from the UK and South Africa, the stay-home notice has been further enhanced with an additional self-isolation period for travellers from those regions. This 7-day period will see returning travellers isolated in their own residences after fulfilling the 14-day SHN period in a dedicated facility.
Similarly, travellers will be expected to stay in their own rooms and avoid contact with other people within the residence and will have their movement closely monitored by the Ministry of Health. They will also be subject to a COVID-19 swab test at the end of their isolation period.