Singapore eager to expand vaccinated travel in reopening push

Australia and Canada could be among the next countries welcome to join the city-state’s ‘vaccinated travel lane’.

By Bloomberg News, August 23 2021
Singapore eager to expand vaccinated travel in reopening push

Singapore is seeking to add more countries to its ‘vaccinated travel lane’ program in a signal to the world it’s committed to reopening.

After starting to allow vaccinated visitors from Germany and Brunei from next month, the city-state will “work from there to see which countries and how we can go about it,” Minister of Transport S. Iswaran said in an interview with Bloomberg on Friday.

“We’ve calibrated it tightly in terms of designated flights, but the intention really is to do this well so that we can then scale up,” Iswaran said.

“This is a critical process to make sure that all parties understand what is required of them including the travelers, and they’re able to comply and meet the requirements.”

Singapore will allow vaccinated travelers from Germany and Brunei to enter from September 8, without having to quarantine and without the need to have a purpose for visiting or controlled itinerary.

Since Germany is already open to people arriving from the city-state, this effectively starts the island nation’s first transcontinental travel bubble.

Singapore will also open up to visitors from Hong Kong, although the two financial hubs won’t go ahead with plans for an air travel bubble.

Their strategies for containing Covid have diverged – Hong Kong is still pursuing a Covid-zero eradication path, while Singapore seeks to reopen with a backstop of one of the world’s best vaccination rates.

Read more: Singapore, Hong Kong abandon ‘travel bubble’ plans

Hong Kong and Macau join New Zealand, most of mainland China and Taiwan as economies with the least entry restrictions to Singapore, or Category I on the city-state’s four-part list. 

Australia, Canada, South Korea and China’s Jiangsu province form Category II, where travelers can quarantine for just seven days. The group also includes all travelers from Germany and Brunei who aren’t utilizing the vaccinated travel lane.

Category III, which allows home-based quarantine for 14 days, includes Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Norway and Switzerland.

All other countries for which Singapore hasn’t banned entry form Category IV, which requires 14 days quarantine in a dedicated hotel facility on entry. 

Vaccinated travel lanes replace bubbles

Singapore will considering additional travel lanes based on a country’s infection and vaccination rates, and their ability to control outbreaks.

While Iswaran declined to be drawn on how many countries Singapore is talking to or which ones, he described the move as a “signal to the rest of the world.”

“Essentially we are signaling a path towards reopening,” Iswaran said.

“Is it something that is foolproof? We don’t know. But we are doing everything we can to start to forge that path back to restoring travel, restoring connectivity, because that is going to be an essential part of business.”

The travel lane underscores Singapore’s plan to differentiate between those who get vaccinated and those who don’t.

Short-term visitors aren’t allowed from Germany and Brunei if they’re not fully vaccinated. And the travel lane won’t extend to children too young for the jabs, even if their parents are vaccinated.

While business and leisure travel is essential to Singapore’s trade-dependent economy, the government to date has restricted movement and applied constrictive domestic measures as a means to control infections.

Feeling their way…

Germany and Brunei were chosen as places where Singapore could test its confidence in vaccinated travel lanes, with Covid infections in both places at manageable levels. Though Brunei limits foreign tourism, travelers from Singapore were already allowed to enter Germany with minimal restrictions.

“As the saying goes, we are feeling the stones as we cross the river,” said Lawrence Wong, the finance minister and a co-chair of the nation’s Covid task force.

“Each time we make a move we will monitor the data, we will look at the evidence and ensure that our hospital system is able to cope with the infection situation before we take the next step.”

“We should be under no illusion that the road ahead will be an easy one,” Wong said, reiterating that Singapore may need to pause or pull back some measures if clusters grow to the point it strains the city-state’s hospital system.

“The path toward being a COVID resilient nation is going to be long and hard slog,” he said. “Even at very high vaccination rates we are not going to reach herd immunity where the outbreak just fizzles out.”

The pivot from ‘Covid zero’

With nearly 80% of its population now fully vaccinated – one of the highest rates in the world – Singapore is the first among the group of places with a zero-tolerance approach to Covid-19 to start pivoting its approach from strict containment to treating the disease more like influenza.

While other places like Australia and New Zealand are largely locked down as they try to reduce transmission in populations that aren’t highly vaccinated, Singapore is loosening measures in a controlled way.

It will closely monitor the number of imported cases to ensure that the protocols put in place for the vaccinated travel arrangements work, Iswaran said, adding that “the greater the fidelity to the protocols, the greater the chance of success.”

As for when life may go back to normal and travel will be as free as it was in 2019 however, Iswaran wouldn’t be drawn. 

“I don’t like looking into crystal balls because I get tired of eating crushed glass,” he joked, adding “I think it’s too difficult to call.”

“Our own analysis is that the sooner we learn how to live with Covid, the sooner we will be able to adjust our protocols, our processes to return to normalcy as much as possible,” he said. “If we don’t do that and if we’re waiting for an eradication type of approach it might not be possible given the way the virus is mutating.”

A signal to the world

Singapore’s Health Minister Ong Ye Kung says the revised approach shows the nation continues to welcome foreign investment and talent and remains committed to global connections.

Ong last week told members of the European Chamber of Commerce in Singapore, or EuroCham, that such a commitment has been called into question recently by the domestic debate over foreign labor and the challenges of the pandemic.

“Covid-19 has underlined a fundamental reality about Singapore: We are too small to survive on our own and we must tap global markets,” Ong said.

“Openness is a fundamental value,” he said as he reiterated the government’s position that it welcomes foreign expertise to complement and expand local talent.

Singapore’s low taxes, regulatory clarity and modern infrastructure have made it one of the most attractive places to do business in Asia, but growing angst about foreign workers during the pandemic has put the government under pressure to justify the need for overseas labor and reassure firms they’re still welcome. 

This article is published under license from Bloomberg Media: the original article can be viewed here

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