Tue, 02 Jun 2020

By Lee Kah WhyeSingapore, April 6 (ANI) The Singapore government has decided to quarantine returning Singaporeans from overseas in five-star hotels for 14 days as a constructive way to support the local hotel industry in these difficult times. The government has blocked 7500 hotel rooms for quarantine purposes.

With the occupancy at hotels plunging to unprecedented levels and many jobs at risk, the Singapore government may have found a novel way to help the hotel industry in Singapore.

Last week, the World Travel and Tourism Council reported that layoffs in global tourism is mounting at a rate of one million a day, estimating that up to 50 million jobs in the sector are at immediate risk and that the industry may possibly lose as much as USD 2.1 trillion by the end of the year.

Singapore reported its first case of COVID-19 on January 23. When it closed its borders to Chinese visitors at the end of the month, it had a total of 16 cases. The situation was very "manageable" right up to till the middle of March. Until then, the maximum number of cases on any given day was 13, and on most days, the number of new cases was in the low single-digit numbers. However, numbers started spiking up from the middle of March. One of the reasons for the spike could be due to residents returning from other countries in March as countries around the world started to lockdown and close their borders.

Singapore is a densely packed island city on about 720 square kilometers of land and a population of 5.7 million people. Any virus can spread quite easily on the island.

About 200,000 residents were expected to return to Singapore in March and April.

Since January until early March, the screening protocol at the airport was to check for temperature and respiratory illness at the airport. With the insidious nature of COVID-19 which can be asymptomatic or mild in many people, undetected infected returnees may have spread the pathogen in the densely populated island.

From the middle of March, Singapore began tightening restrictions on returnees and by March 20, anyone entering Singapore from anywhere in the world was served a legally binding 14-day quarantine or stay-at-home (SHN) noticed. The penalties for non-compliance are severe. In addition to a fine, passports of citizens can be revoked.

The UK and the US were identified as countries where many imported cases came from. In order to prevent transmission of the virus to their family members at home, those returning from the US and UK are made to quarantine themselves in hotels fully paid by the government.

In a Singapore government statement in March, it explained that the UK and US accounted for the largest share of imported cases in Singapore by far. It added that it expects more Singapore residents, including a sizeable group of Singaporean students, to return from these countries over the coming weeks in response to lockdowns. This started at midnight on March 26. Transportation will be arranged to send the returnees directly from the airport to the hotels.

In so doing the Singapore government has not only found a solution to accommodate returning residents so that they do not infect others in the country but is also supporting the hospitality sector which is in a dire situation with next to zero occupancy and potentially safeguarding jobs in the industry.

Reports say over 7,500 rooms have been booked for this purpose by the Singapore Tourism Board.

Looking at accounts of people who are publicising their serving of stay at home notice at hotels on social media, it appears that the hotels that are being used include the Conrad Centennial, Swissotel The Stamford in Raffles City, Village Hotel Sentosa, Shangri-la Rasa Sentosa Resort and Village Hotel Albert Court. Albert Court is right next to Little India. Those confined to Raffles City or Sentosa have posted stunning views of the sea and sweeping views of Singapore's famous cityscape on social media.

However, it's not a total holiday where the special "guests" can use the facilities of the hotels like the bars, restaurants, swimming pools and gyms.

The "guests" are confined to their rooms which are on designated floors and sections of the hotel. Food is takeaway served in plastic containers and delivered in a plastic bag hung on the door or on stools placed outside the room. Some hotels allow food delivery services, so some have ordered food from familiar restaurants like Din Dai Fung or burgers from McDonald's.

The rooms are not serviced. Every four days, a bag of fresh towels and linen is placed outside for the occupant to replace.

You can ask family members to bring whatever you wish to your room. Some have brought Nespresso machines, gaming computers, Play-Station and various devices and gadgets to keep themselves occupied. Others are keeping fit by setting up creative routines to stay healthy.

In February, before stringent travel restrictions and lockdown imposed by many countries, the Singapore Tourism Board projected a decline in tourism receipts of 20 to 30 per cent. With global tourism plummeting to levels never seen before, the above projection is now clearly grossly understated.

As a measure of the extent of the crisis the tourism industry is facing, the Singapore government in its supplementary budget announced on March 26, has offered to pay up to 75 per cent of the salaries of local employees in the tourism sector for nine months. A further SGD 90 million (USD 63 million) will be aside to help the industry rebound strongly when visitors can return. (ANI)

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