Singapore will ban all transit passengers from Tuesday March 24, along with short-term visitors to the island nation, with the aim of preventing the coronavirus pandemic from taking hold in the city-state, which this weekend recorded its first two deaths from Covid-19 complications.
Singapore's Changi Airport is among the region's busiest, with 65.6 million passengers passing through in 2018.
The move will isolate Singapore – often considered as Asia's financial capital and one of its leading air travel hubs – from the rest of the world, and represents a near-crippling blow to Singapore Airlines.
The flag-carrier has been forced to slash its global network by 96% of capacity and leave just nine aircraft, out of a fleet of 147, flying a handful of routes geared around Singaporean residents rather than global travellers.
The airline says that its unique role as a purely international carrier makes its position "more vulnerable when international markets increasingly restrict the free movement of people or ban air travel altogether. It is unclear when the SIA Group can begin to resume normal services, given the uncertainty as to when the stringent border controls will be lifted."
Changi Airport has advised passengers that the ban "includes passengers who are transferring flights and not leaving the transit area," adding that "if you are transiting/transferring through Singapore, both incoming and outgoing flights have to be before 23/03/20 11.59pm."
Self-isolation for residents returning home
As of this coming Tuesday, entry will be permitted only for "Singapore residents and long-term pass holders", who will need to serve out a 14-day Stay at Home Notice upon arrival and provide proof of the place where they will serve the SHN, for example a hotel booking covering the entire period, or a place of residence they or their family members own."
Work-pass holders and their dependents will only be allowed entry if they work in "essential services, such as in healthcare and transport," although the Government says this could also include foreign domestic helpers who are needed to look after children or the elderly.
The Ministry of Health reports that almost 80% of new Covid-19 cases over the past three days were "imported", mostly via returning Singapore residents and work pass holders.
How long will Changi's transit ban last?
"This is an unprecedented crisis," said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong at a media briefing on Sunday morning. "During this time, we have to focus our resources on returning Singaporeans."
Wong was unable to say how long the ban on short-stay visitors and travellers in transit would remain in place.
"No-one will know how long this current wave of imported cases we are experiencing will last for. It depends on how long the outbreak is going to continue in Europe and America, which are now the new epicentres for the virus outbreak. It (also) depends on how long more we will see returning Singaporeans coming back, so we will monitor on a day by day basis."
Changi lounge closures
Qantas will make its last flight to Singapore on Saturday March 28, with the arrival of QF2 from London en route to Sydney. The long-standing Kangaroo Route will then be paused, along with the rest of Qantas' international network, until at least the end of May.
The highly-regarded Qantas Singapore First lounge, along with the popular Qantas Singapore Business Lounge, will then be closed.