Travellers in China cool to Singapore move to lift border curbs

Thai health officials disinfecting the luggage of travellers from China at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport last week. Thailand was among the top destinations for Chinese travellers last year.
Thai health officials disinfecting the luggage of travellers from China at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport last week. Thailand was among the top destinations for Chinese travellers last year.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Travellers in China were muted in their response to the lifting of Singapore travel restrictions, with many citing the need for a two-week quarantine upon their return as the main inconvenience.

Beginning next Friday, travellers from Victoria, Australia, and China with negative Covid-19 tests will be able to enter Singapore without the need for a quarantine.

But this has not been reciprocated by Canberra and Beijing, which are still keeping their borders shut with certain exceptions.

China closed its borders to all foreigners on March 28, including those with long-term visas.

Controls were gradually eased from late April when it announced a "fast track" agreement with South Korea, allowing quarantine-free travel in urgent and essential cases. A similar arrangement was announced with Singapore on May 28.

From Sept 28, this was further relaxed to allow foreigners holding visas for work, personal matters and family reunions to re-enter the country. But all arrivals would have to undergo a 14-day quarantine at a government facility at their own expense.

For media executive Bao Hongguang, it would be a good opportunity, if the Singapore move came earlier, to visit his 17-year-old daughter who is attending a Singapore secondary school.

His plan to visit was thrice rescheduled because of the pandemic, and he has now pencilled it in for March next year.

"The easing of quarantine measures would have been helpful, but my daughter is finishing her O levels this week and will be coming back in November, so there is no point. It is the same for my other friends with children in Singapore," he said yesterday.

"Even if I went, I would have to quarantine when I come back, and I don't have that much time off."

According to a study commissioned by the Singapore Tourism Board in June, Chinese travellers prioritise having no quarantine upon return, the availability of treatment and vaccines, and no new cases in their destination country as criteria for travelling.

Others like Singaporean businessman Ric Koh said the new measures do not make much of a difference to them. The Shenzhen-based founder of an electronics manufacturing firm said he could always come back to Singapore but had held back because the paperwork for subsequent return to China is "complicated".

"I wouldn't mind going through nucleic acid tests every day, or even taking the vaccine at an experimental stage just so I can travel freely for work," Mr Koh added.

Meanwhile, Australia has also not reciprocated Singapore's easing of travel restrictions and continues to bar entry to non-citizens and non-residents.

Almost all international arrivals in Australia must undergo 14 days of quarantine, typically at the traveller's own expense. And Australians are barred from travelling overseas unless they get an exemption from the federal government.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that the government is considering creating travel bubbles with Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Pacific island nations.

So far, Australia's only travel bubble is with New Zealand. Even then, only select Australian regions have agreed to be part of it.

Singapore's decision to accept travellers from Victoria could add to pressure on Australian states and territories which have yet to open their own doors to Victorian visitors. New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian said yesterday she will consider opening the border with Victoria in the coming weeks, after it becomes clear that Victoria's easing of curbs will not lead to more cases.

Victoria's government could not be reached for comment last night about Singapore's decision.

  • Top travel spots for the Chinese

  • • China is the largest outbound travel market in the world.

    • More than 169 million outbound trips were made by Chinese tourists last year, including more than 102 million trips to Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

  • TOP DESTINATIONS FOR CHINESE TRAVELLERS IN 2019 (IN DESCENDING ORDER)

    •Hong Kong

    •Macau

    •Thailand

    •Japan

    •South Korea

    •Vietnam

    •Singapore

    •Malaysia

    •Cambodia

    •Taiwan

    SOURCE: NATIONAL BUREAU OF STATISTICS OF CHINA, CHINA OUTBOUND TOURISM RESEARCH INSTITUTE

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2020, with the headline 'Travellers in China cool to S'pore move to lift border curbs'. Print Edition | Subscribe