Singapore threatens prison for close encounters in stringent virus measures

Getting within a metre of another person at a restaurant or a shopping queue in Singapore can now land you in prison under some of the toughest punishments seen worldwide to implement social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.

The city-state's no-nonsense approach and extensive surveillance during a two-month long virus battle has won international praise, and had allowed it to largely avoid curtailing daily life until a surge of cases in the last week.

But confusion over some of the new measures has seen some call for a clearer stance such as total lockdowns like those seen in Britain, France and Italy.

"Easier to lockdown than to have so many new rules to remember," Facebook user Meng Yang commented on a local news article about the new measures.

Others questioned whether the rules would apply to public transport during busy commuting hours or between family members.

"I can't sit opposite my son or wife as well? Will my son be jailed? He is only 7," wrote another user Damian Chee.

The updates to Singapore's powerful infectious diseases law which came into effect on Friday have been accompanied by other measures such as shutting bars and limiting gatherings to up to 10 people outside work and school.

The updates state that anyone who intentionally sits less than 1 metre away from another person in a public place or on a fixed seat demarcated as not to be occupied, or who stands in a queue less than a metre away from another, will be guilty of an offence.

The rules, in place until April 30, can be applied to individuals and businesses and offenders can be fined up to S$10,000 ($6,990), jailed for up to six months, or both.

France has imposed fines and prison terms for multiple breaches of a nationwide confinement order that exempts essential commuting, shopping and solitary exercise. Britons face 30 pounds ($37) fines for flouting instructions to stay home.

Singapore is well known for its strict rules: fines can be doled out for everything from feeding birds to forgetting to flush a public toilet.

Authorities have said more drastic measures may be needed if locals do not take social distancing seriously.

Singapore reported 73 new cases on Wednesday - its biggest daily jump - and a further 52 infections on Thursday, taking its total to 683.