COVID-19 Penalties for Not Social Distancing or Staying Home

man wearing mask in public transport

On 7 April 2020, Singapore entered the “circuit breaker” period which had been announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, to pre-empt the escalating number of COVID-19 infections across the country.

This article outlines the various measures that have been implemented, including social distancing, contact tracing and ensuring that individuals stay home as much as possible during the circuit breaker period, as well as the penalties for failing to comply with these measures.

Please note that this article will focus on the measures that individuals have to comply with, as opposed to measures that businesses would need to implement during this period.

What are the Measures That Have Been Put in Place During the COVID-19 Circuit Breaker Period?

On 7 April, following the announcement of the circuit breaker period, Parliament passed a new law, the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) (Control Order) Regulations 2020 (“Control Order Regulations”).

Part 2 of the Control Order Regulations sets out the restrictions placed on individuals when leaving or entering a place of residence. Under these regulations, all individuals in Singapore are legally required to stay at home and may only leave their places of residence to do the following “directly with all reasonable speed”:

  • Work for or with an essential service provider (e.g. healthcare services, food retail, public transportation and ride hailing services), specified schools or early childhood development centres
  • Sending children to childcare if the individual or the individual’s spouse works for an essential service provider
  • Purchase of essential goods and services (e.g. groceries, medicines)
  • Exercise alone or with family members/persons from the same household in green or open spaces (explained further below)
  • Seek medical help for a suspected COVID-19 infection or other urgent treatment
  • Provide assistance with daily needs to seniors aged 60 or older, children aged 12 or below or individuals with physical or mental disability, where no other assistance is available
  • Seek or render help in an emergency
  • Comply with the law, for example, a court order
  • Report for enlistment or National Service
  • Move to a new house
  • To leave Singapore

Individuals who have to leave their homes are required to keep a distance of at least one metre from other individuals. These social distancing requirements will be explained in greater detail below.

Are social as well as recreational activities (e.g. exercise) prohibited during the circuit breaker period?

All social gatherings, including private parties in homes and social get-togethers with friends, relatives or family members not living in the same place of residence are strictly prohibited. This is to limit the spread of potential COVID-19 infections through such social interactions.

Similarly, social gatherings in public spaces, such as in parks or void decks of public housing estates, are also prohibited under the regulations.

Regulation 8 of the Control Order Regulations also prohibits the use of common sports or recreation facilities, for example:

  • Sports stadiums, private gyms and fitness studios
  • Tennis courts or basketball courts located within HDB estates or condominiums,
  • Public sports and recreational facilities like public swimming pools and public sports halls.

Such facilities will be closed during the circuit breaker period.

Activities such as fishing and kite-flying are considered recreational activities that are strictly prohibited as they may attract other interested participants and form a crowd.

You may continue to exercise either on your own or with members of your household living with you around your immediate neighbourhood, in open and uncrowded places like public parks.

For example, you are permitted to go jogging at a park near your neighbourhood. However, you must ensure that you observe social distancing measures (see below) at all times while you exercise, and that you return to your home as soon as possible after doing so.

Do note that as of 11 April, National Parks has closed a number of public park facilities, park connectors and gardens to minimise crowd levels. Members of the public are also encouraged to visit this website to check whether a particular park or green space is open and its crowd levels before visiting, and to avoid visiting parks when crowd levels are high.

On the same day, all beaches in Singapore were also  closed to the public, in line with ongoing efforts by the government to urge all individuals in Singapore to stay home as much as possible. In addition, public fitness facilities such as neighbourhood playgrounds, fitness corners/stations, water play/water recreational facilities and dog runs have been closed. Open-air stadiums have also been closed since 10 April.

On 12 April, the Singapore Land Authority announced that it will also be closing all playfields with immediate effect, as part of efforts to further curb the spread of COVID-19 infections by preventing groups of people from congregating in such open spaces.

What are the social distancing measures? 

Under regulation 7 of the Control Order Regulations, an individual who leaves his/her home for permitted purposes must maintain a distance of at least 1 metre from any other individual, with the exception of lifts, public transport or vehicles.

In public places, this includes:

  • Sitting on a seat that is fixed to the floor and not marked as a seat “not to be occupied”, while maintaining 1 metre away from another seated individual;
  • Standing 1 metre away from another individual in a queue

What are the Penalties for Breaching the Control Order Regulations?

Section 34(7) of the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures Act) 2020 provides that a person who contravenes any of the provisions under the Control Order Regulations commits an offence and is liable for the following penalties:

  • For first-time offenders, a fine up to S$10,000 and/or imprisonment for a term up to  6 months.
  • For second and subsequent offenders, a fine up to S$20,000 and/or imprisonment for a term up to 12 months.

On 11 April, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli announced that with effect from 12 April, individuals who flouted the circuit breaker measures would be fined S$300 right away for a first-time offence. Repeat offenders will face higher fines or prosecution in court for serious cases.

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Am I Allowed to Travel Overseas during the COVID-19 Outbreak?

On 18 March, the Government advised all Singaporeans to defer all non-essential overseas travel with immediate effect to curb the risk of Singaporeans becoming infected while overseas, and subsequently spreading the infection to other Singaporeans when they return.

From 27 March, it was announced that any Singapore resident or long-term pass holder who leaves Singapore will be charged unsubsidised rates for inpatient stays at public hospitals if they are admitted for suspected COVID-19, and display an onset of symptoms within 14 days of their return to Singapore.

The Ministry of Health also added that Singapore residents will not be able to claim from MediShield Life or Integrated Shield plans for such treatments at both public and private hospitals in such cases.

In addition, work-pass holders or their dependants who leave Singapore from 27 March will be deprioritised for entry approval and can expect delays before they are permitted to return to Singapore if they continue to travel abroad and return infected.

How Long Will the COVID-19 Circuit Breaker Period Last?

Under regulation 1(2), the Control Order Regulations governing the current circuit breaker period will be in force from 7 April 2020 to 4 May 2020 (both dates inclusive).

Do note that under section 34 of the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020, the Government can make new regulations to extend the duration of the circuit breaker period if it is deemed necessary to do so.

COVID-19 Contact Tracing Measures 

What happens if I hinder or obstruct contact tracing efforts by the authorities?

The Government has been using contact tracing to identify persons who might have come into close contact with a COVID-19-infected individual, and might be at risk of contracting COVID-19 as a result. This ensures that such individuals are quarantined or put on notice to monitor any symptoms, in an effort to curb the spread of infections.

Under section 64 of the Infectious Diseases Act, it is an offence for an individual to hinder or obstruct the contact tracing process, or provide false or misleading information or documents that might be required during the contact tracing process.

First-time offenders can be liable to a fine of up to S$10,000 and or imprisonment for a term of up to 6 months. For second or subsequent offences, offenders can be fined up to S$20,000 and/or be imprisoned for a term of up to 12 months.

In February, a couple from China were the first people to be charged under the Infectious Diseases Act for providing false information about their movements, which obstructed the contact tracing process. The authorities have stressed the serious implications of providing false information and the risks posed to public health as a result.

What happens if I breach a stay-home notice / leave of absence / quarantine order?

The Government takes a strict view of breaches of stay-home notices, leave of absence, and quarantine orders.

The table below provides an overview of these orders:

Stay-Home Notice Leave of Absence (LOA) Quarantine Order
What is it? A more strict regime compared to LOA, individuals have to remain in their place of residence at all times and are not permitted to invite visitors to their residence. A precautionary measure where employees are  placed on LOA, and advised to remain in their residences as much as possible and minimise visitors. They may leave their residences for daily necessities or attend to important matters, but must minimise time spent in public. A legal order issued to individuals under the Infectious Diseases Act to quarantine or isolate an individual who is or is suspected to be infected with COVID-19 or is in contact of a COVID-19-infected person.
Where is the individual required to stay?? Dedicated Stay-Home Notice facilities in Singapore At the residence/home of the individual Either the residence/home of the individual or dedicated Government Quarantine facilities or hospitals
How long does it last? 14 days 14 days The quarantine period will be specified in the order
Who does it apply to? As of 9 April, it applies to all Singapore Citizens, Permanent Residents and Long-term Pass Holders entering Singapore from all countries Preschool and primary school students staying in the same household as a person who has returned from any country from 25 March 2020, and is serving their Stay-Home Notice at home Singapore Residents and Long-term Pass Holders returning from Hubei Province and close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases

Penalties for Singaporeans who breach these orders

On 26 March, the Ministry of Health put into effect new regulations regarding stay-home notices, namely the Infectious Diseases (COVID-19 – Stay Orders) Regulations 2020.

Under these regulations, offenders who breach stay-home notice orders can be found guilty of an offence and liable to a fine of up to S$10,000 and/or imprisonment for a term of up to 6 months.

On 7 April, a Singaporean was charged for breaching a stay-home notice to have a bak kut teh meal at a hawker centre. He then subsequently travelled to and visited various other public places, including food centres and a shopping mall, across Singapore while he was supposed to be serving the stay-home notice.

Penalties for Permanent Residents (PRs)/foreigners who breach these orders

For non-Singapore citizens, other administrative actions, such as the revocation of or shortening the validity of their permits and passes to remain in Singapore, may be undertaken by the authorities for their breaching of stay-home notice requirements.

Earlier in February, a man lost his Singapore permanent residency status for breaching a stay-home notice given in light of his recent travel history to China. He had insisted on leaving Singapore despite the stay-home notice requirements and the ICA subsequently rejected his application for the renewal of his re-entry permit. Such renewal would have allowed him to retain his PR status while he was outside of Singapore.

The authorities have also taken strict enforcement action against foreigners for breaching such orders. In early February, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) revoked the work passes of 4 people who were caught working at their places of employment when they were supposed to have taken a Leave of Absence (LOA).

They were repatriated within a 24-hour period and banned from working in Singapore permanently. Their 6 employers also had their work pass privileges suspended for 2 years for breaching the LOA requirements.

More recently on 12 April, a work pass holder working for an essential service provider had his work pass revoked for loitering at various places in breach of the recent circuit breaker measures. He has also been permanently banned from working in Singapore.

Similarly, on 13 April, MOM announced that it had revoked the permits of 24 work pass holders for breaching the circuit breaker measures by eating, drinking and gathering in groups in the vicinity of their dormitory.

The success of the circuit breaker measures depends on the efforts of each and every individual to do their part to stay home as much as possible, and to practise social distancing if they have to leave their homes for essential activities.

As Singapore’s laws to contain the spread of COVID-19 are changing rapidly, it is important that you continue to keep updated of developments from the Government. You should also abide by the measures that have been put in place to protect your well-being and those of others around you.