Coronavirus forces trade and travel hub Singapore to close borders – dpa international

dpa

The Gardens By The Bay are one of Singapore's main tourist attractions (Simon Roughneen)

The Gardens By The Bay are one of Singapore’s main tourist attractions (Simon Roughneen)

KUALA LUMPUR — A ban on tourists announced by Singapore on Sunday is the latest in a series of border closures aimed at stopping a coronavirus pandemic that looks set to send the global economy into a tailspin.

Citing a “heightened risk of importation of Covid-19 cases,” the Health Ministry stated that the only non-nationals allowed in from 11:59 pm (1559 GMT) on Monday will be work permit holders in “essential sectors” such as health care.

The ministry said that 80 per cent of the city-state’s recently confirmed cases were “imported,” with around half coming from Europe, the “epicentre” of the pandemic, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The spike in imported cases mirrors recent trends across Asia, with China, Hong Kong and Vietnam among the countries reporting such rises.

Singapore’s border restrictions come despite rigorous and intricate health screening, testing and contact-tracing systems that have helped contain virus cases at 432, a relatively low number compared to similar-sized European countries.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that, despite the checks already in place, the government now must “focus our resources on the returning Singaporeans.”

The city-state plans to re-open schools on Monday despite the pandemic, bucking the trend in other countries.

The border shutdown follows similar moves undertaken in recent days by bigger neighbours such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand and SIngapore’s previous recent travel bans on visitors from China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, South Korea and Spain.

However such curbs could prove more damaging to Singapore, a tiny island where tourism and business travel are key to one of the world’s most globalized economies.

Wong said on Sunday that the border restrictions are “very significant moves, especially for a small open economy like Singapore that has always been connected to the world.”

Singapore’s drew the world’s fourth-biggest amount of foreign direct investment in 2019, according to estimates by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

World Bank data for 2018 showed trade passing through the city-state to be worth more than three times its gross domestic product, while Singapore’s port is the world’s second-busiest after Shanghai, according to data from the World Economic Forum and World Shipping Council.

Singapore’s new restrictions affect transit, a likely further blow to the city-state’s economy given that the recently-expanded Changi Airport is a widely used way station for flights between the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.

Traffic through Changi, which regularly sees passenger numbers top 60 million a year, had already plummeted by 32 per cent year-on-year in February. That fall-off came after Singapore in January banned visitors from China, the source of the pandemic and of around a fifth of Singapore’s visitors in 2019.

On Saturday, after Singapore announced its first two deaths linked to the pandemic, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in turn told compatriots that more fatalities are likely.

The statement was Lee’s third public warning about the pandemic, after previously saying that it could last around a year and throw Singapore into recession.

Singapore is usually among the first to feel the pinch when the global economy contracts. It was the first Asian country to lapse into recession during the global financial crisis that struck the world in 2008.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Thursday that global recession is a “near certainty.”

The same day, British consultancy Capital Economics said that Singapore’s economy could shrink by 3 per cent in 2020 and warned that “South-east Asia and China are likely to be the worst affected countries by the current crisis, with some places likely to see GDP contract by up to 5 per cent this year.”

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