As Singapore continues to battle the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) has released an updated advisory for employers and employees travelling to and from Mainland China.

This is summarised below.

Travel plans and travel declaration

As a general precaution, employers and employees are advised to remain vigilant and stay regularly posted on the Ministry of Health's (MOH) website for any latest updates on the virus. This will help in making better decisions on proceeding with any work travel plans.

Additionally, employers should ensure employees have filled in a health and travel declaration on any recent travel from or upcoming travel plan s to mainland China.

Employers with foreign employees (i.e. Work Pass, in-principle approval, Dependant's Pass or Long-Term Visit Pass holders) in the categories below should take the following actions accordingly:

Employees who travelled to mainland China and returned to Singapore within 14 days of 31 January 2020, 6pm.

What employers should do: Inform these employees that they will be placed on a mandatory 14-day leave of absence upon arriving in Singapore. Be sure to obtain a written acknowledgement from them, and submit this to MOM when requested by the Controller of Work Passes.

Employees with passports issued in Hubei, and who are currently overseas; Employees who travelled to Hubei in the past 14 days are currently overseas, regardless of nationalities.

What employers should do: Defer these employees' return or entry into Singapore for as far as possible, and keep a lookout for further notice on this by MOM. Employers should also immediately inform the Ministry about their employees' travel plans.

[ALSO READ: Guidelines for employees placed on leave of absence linked to Wuhan virus]

Medical benefits and flexible work arrangements

In this period, MOM has urged employers to be "flexible and supportive" of their employees' needs, while employees should cooperate with their employers.

As stated by MOM, in the event an affected employee has used up their medical benefits (per their employment contract or collective agreement), do consider providing medical coverage to them, as they may face financial hardships in such situations.

Apart from this, employers are also advised to consider adopting flexible work arrangements such as teleconferencing and telecommuting, to allow so employees can work from home.

In instances where this is not possible, employers are encouraged to provide paid leave of absence over and above the employee's annual leave entitlement; or, consider some of or a combination of the following options:

  • Treat the employees' leave of absence as paid hospitalisation leave or paid outpatient sick leave;
  • Allow employees to apply for annual leave;
  • Allow employees to use advanced paid leave or apply for no-pay leave, for those who have used up their leave entitlements; or
  • Other mutually-agreed arrangements between the employers and employees/unions.

Face masks: To wear, or not to wear?

The ministry has stressed that employees who are well and do not have any symptoms do not need to wear a mask.

On the other hand, those who are not well or have respiratory symptoms should wear a mask, to ensure they do not spread any infections to others. Consult a doctor as soon as possible.

The advisory noted: "In the case of the 2019-nCoV, MOH has advised that infection is spread through droplets. Wearing a mask will protect other people when someone with respiratory symptoms coughs or sneezes, as the mask would trap those droplets and prevent those droplets from spreading and disseminating."

As such, a surgical mask is sufficient for this case and fulfils the important function of preventing a spread if worn properly. The mask should be changed if it gets soiled or stained.

[ALSO READ: How and when to wear a mask during the Wuhan virus outbreak]

Precautionary measures taken by MOM thus far

  • Effective 31 January 2020, MOM will reject all new work pass applications for foreign workers from mainland China until further notice. Renewal applications for existing work pass holders will not be affected.
  • All returning employees with Hubei travel history within 14 days prior to arrival in Singapore will be quarantined at home or other suitable facilities. Those who were already in Singapore before 28 January 2020 will be assessed by MOH and those at higher risk will be quarantined.
  • All employees arriving from mainland China (excluding Hubei province) on or after 6pm on 31 January 2020 will be required to go on leave of absence for 14 days from the day of arrival in Singapore.

General advisory for workplaces and frontline workers

Following confirmations of local transmissions of the virus in Singapore, MOM has worked with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, National Trades Union Congress and Singapore National Employers Federation to implement additional measures for workplaces.

In addition to precautionary measures on health and travel declaration, and leave of absence compliance detailed above, the ministries have also urged employers to step up the cleaning of their workplace premises.

  • Conduct more frequent cleaning of areas with high human contact (i.e. counters, rooms which host visitors), and general public areas such as pantries, lifts, toilets, and bin areas.
  • Adopt the sanitation and hygiene advisories released by the National Environment Agency (NEA). More importantly, the NEA has also released a set of interim guidelines on cleaning and disinfecting areas exposed to confirmed cases of the virus. These have been disseminated to hotels, public and private transport operators, and F&B outlets.
Apart from cleaning, the general advisory also urged that frontline workers should advise unwell customers who are visibly unwell to visit a doctor immediately.

If urgent services to these customers are necessary, employers should have in place proper procedures to safeguard their employees as well as other customers. For instance, get frontline staff to wear a surgical mask, or to serve these customers away from other customers.

Note: This article does not constitute any medical advice.

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