Travellers must pay full rates for virus treatment
With 1,000 residents still leaving daily, new measure aims to hit them in pocket
If you go against the current advisory to defer all travel abroad, be prepared to pay at least $1,000 a day if you end up in intensive care with Covid-19.
With about 1,000 Singaporeans, permanent residents and long-term pass holders still leaving the country daily despite the advisory, this latest measure will hit recalcitrant travellers where it hurts most - in the pocket.
From Friday, Singapore residents and pass holders who go abroad will be charged unsubsidised rates for in-patient stays at public hospitals if they are admitted for suspected Covid-19 and have onset of symptoms within 14 days of returning.
This comes after National Development Minister Lawrence Wong, who co-chairs the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19, warned of consequences for those who continue to defy the travel advisory.
Singaporeans and PRs who leave Singapore from Friday onwards will also not be allowed to claim from MediShield Life or Integrated Shield Plans if they need coronavirus-related treatments at public and private hospitals on their return.
Work pass holders and their dependants will be de-prioritised for entry approval and could see significant delays before they are allowed to return to Singapore, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said yesterday.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, also a co-chair of the task force, said at a press conference that such individuals pose a risk to the health of fellow Singaporeans when they return.
Mr Gan and Mr Wong also announced a slew of new measures aimed at reducing social gatherings and the risk of local transmission, including the closure of nightclubs and entertainment venues, suspending all religious activities and deferring all events and mass gatherings.
Mr Wong said: "We are urging all Singaporeans to take these measures seriously.
"If we do these steps well, then we may be able to get through this very critical time... where we are seeing a very large wave of imported cases and very real risk of local transmission happening."
Mr Wong said returnees from the US and Britain account for a large share of imported cases, with about 1,200 people returning from the two nations daily.
While the arrangements for them to serve the 14-day stay-home notices at home have been working well, the Government will arrange for those coming back from these two countries, starting from 11.59pm today, to be put up at hotels as an added precaution.
Dr Jeremy Lim, partner for health and life sciences at consultancy firm Oliver Wyman, said the move to make those who go abroad pay in full any Covid-19 medical bill was fair and signalled clear disapproval of unnecessary travel.
"The main message is there are very real financial consequences to societally thoughtless behaviours," he told The New Paper.
Dr Lim, who teaches at the NUS Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said it is hard to estimate exactly how much Covid-19 treatment would cost.
"The experience globally shows that even young people can fall very ill requiring prolonged ICU care," he added.
He said that ballpark costs for an ICU stay without subsidies would be at least $1,000 a day and a couple of hundred dollars a day for general ward stays.
Government subsidies vary by ward class and can be up to 80 per cent for C-class wards, Dr Lim said, pointing to treatment costs for lung, nose or throat infections with severe or moderate complications as an example.
According to MOH's website, 75 per cent of such patients are charged a total bill below $2,000 if they stay in a B2 ward in a public hospital, with subsidies.
This is less than half the $5,000 at B1 wards without subsidies. At private hospitals, this upper limit balloons to some $23,000.
Dr Lim also noted that multiple tests for the virus are needed and they can be expensive.
It was previously reported each test costs around $260.
Singapore University of Social Sciences economist Walter Theseira said: "I suspect many violating this don't know the risks, and in any case can't afford the hospitalisation costs."
Sales manager Pamela Yu, 34, who had earlier cancelled her trip to Taiwan, said the new measures are a good move. She agreed with Associate Professor Theseira that some people will still think they will not get the virus and continue to travel.
"We are trying to contain everything and a lot of cases are imported... These Singaporeans are being inconsiderate."