By Lee Kah Whye
Last week, Singapore made a major announcement that it will reopen its borders to visitors from another 9 countries without the need for quarantine. Since September 8, travellers from Brunei and Germany, which were on a trial of the Singapore Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL), already enjoy quarantine-free entry to Singapore.
Starting October 19, vaccinated travellers from another six European countries - Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the United Kingdom, and those from the United States of America and Canada will join visitors from Germany and Brunei on the Singapore VTL scheme. People travelling from South Korea will be able to enter Singapore quarantine-free from November 15.
To be considered travelling from VTL countries, visitors must have stayed in these countries for 14 consecutive days before their trip. They are allowed to be in multiple VTL countries or transit through these countries during this time.
Those travelling on the VTL scheme must fly on a VTL designated flight which are mainly operated by Singapore Airlines and Lufthansa (from Germany) at the moment. Other carriers will be added in due course. In addition, travellers will be required to show proof of having been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 with vaccines that are on the WHO (World Health Organization) Emergency Use List.
Residents of Singapore or the EU who were previously unvaccinated and had recovered from a past Covid-19 infection are considered fully vaccinated if they have received at least one dose of an approved vaccine.
Passengers arriving in Singapore must undergo a pre-departure PCR (polymerase chain reaction) Covid-19 test within 48 hours of flight departure and take another test on arrival at Changi Airport.
Non-residents of Singapore must also apply for a Vaccinated Travel Pass (VRP) online between seven and 30 days prior to the intended entry into Singapore.
Furthermore, short-term visitors must purchase travel insurance, with a minimum coverage of SGD 30 000 (R331 256) Covid-19 -related medical treatment and hospitalisation costs, prior to travel to Singapore.
During the VTL pilot which lasted about a month, out of the 1 926 people who visited Singapore from Germany and Brunei, only 2 tested positive.
On the day of the announcement, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong addressed the nation to explain why Singapore is reopening aggressively and to placate people who are worried that this may lead to new waves of infection.
He said, "Singapore cannot stay locked down and closed off indefinitely. It would not work, and it would be very costly. We would be unable to resume our lives, participate in social activities, open our borders, and revive our economy."
"Companies and investors need to carry out regional and global business from Singapore. People working for them need to travel to earn a living. Students need to go on overseas attachments and internships."
Although Singapore has seen the number of Covid-19 cases soar to record levels recently with an average of almost 3 200 cases per day in the last week, the number of those who have become seriously ill is low at two percent. Only two out of every thousand needed intensive care treatment or have died. Due to a vaccination rate of about 85 per cent of the total population, about 98 percent of those who catch Covid-19 in Singapore have mild or no symptoms.
The accelerated border opening will be widely welcomed by the tourism industry which saw a trickle of leisure visitors since Covid-19 struck.
Unfortunately, the Singapore VTL at the moment does not cover visitors from China, Indonesia and India, the top three countries from which visitors came in 2019. Together they accounted for almost 43 percent of all visitors to Singapore that year.
Up till now, the national carrier, Singapore Airlines, with no domestic market, has been operating at about 30 percent of pre-Covid passenger capacity. It is also suffering financially and was forced to raise money in the financial markets to the tune of about $15-billion.