Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong Face Second Wave of Coronavirus Cases

Date: Wednesday, March 18, 2020
Source: The Wall Street Journal

Returning travelers are bringing back new risks of infection

On Tuesday, Taiwan extended its self-quarantine rules to cover travelers coming from the U.S. states of Washington, New York and California, as well as Japan and a number of countries in Southeast Asia. Mr. Chen, the island’s top health official, strongly advised citizens to avoid unnecessary travel to those places. He said people who knowingly ignore the travel warning won’t be eligible for government subsidies during their 14-day quarantines and their names would be made public.

Singapore closed its borders to Chinese travelers on Feb. 1, about a week after China said it would lock down the city of Wuhan, where the first coronavirus infections were reported. It set up a national task force to coordinate its response, ran detailed contact-tracing searches and imposed strict quarantines.

In the past week, after imported cases rose, authorities restricted entry for visitors from many European countries, South Korea and Iran and imposed two-week quarantines for residents and short-term visitors from Southeast Asia. They also strongly discouraged citizens from traveling overseas and recalled exchange students who are studying abroad.

News that Malaysia would implement severe international border restrictions until the end of the month led to a wave of panic buying in Singapore’s supermarkets. Singaporeans were seen cleaning out trays of fresh vegetables, poultry and toilet paper within an hour of the announcement, which came late Monday night.

“Everybody is afraid the Malaysian border closures would mean we’ll end up with limited fresh vegetables and eggs,” said Linus Lim, a 45-year-old Singapore IT executive, who stopped by a large supermarket with his two colleagues to buy some fresh poultry.

They found empty shelves and only one or two packs of chicken. Trays containing fresh potatoes, broccoli and carrots were bare and shoppers were picking over the last packs of green beans. Mr. Lim left with ice cream and milk instead.

A store assistant manning the poultry counter at the supermarket said the crowd started coming in at 8 a.m. and had cleaned out coolers of fresh pork and chicken by midmorning. By Tuesday afternoon, the supermarket had started to limit purchases of meat, instant noodles and toilet paper.

The government sent out a statement in the afternoon to try to reassure citizens that Singapore had an adequate supply of food and essentials and the country wouldn’t be affected by Malaysia’s border shutdown.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said arrivals from all foreign countries would be placed under home quarantine for two weeks beginning Thursday—extending a quarantine rule that had previously affected travelers from hot spots like China, Iran, Korea and parts of Europe.

“From now on, I would say the majority of arrivals in Hong Kong will be put under home quarantine or medical surveillance of some form,” Ms. Lam said at a news conference on Tuesday.

Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, the disruption and number of cases continued to mount. National Australia Bank, a major bank Down Under, vacated its headquarters in Melbourne after an employee tested positive for the virus. The building will be “pandemically cleansed,” NAB Chief Executive Ross McEwan said in a letter to staff posted online Tuesday. Johns Hopkins data shows Australia has 377 confirmed cases of infection.