S'pore, Indonesia to discuss two-way bubble with Bintan and Batam, continue talks to expand air, sea travel: PM Lee

PM Lee Hsien Loong and Indonesian President Joko Widodo at The Sanchaya in Bintan for the Singapore-Indonesia Leaders' Retreat. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

BINTAN - Singapore will discuss with Indonesia how it can make the new travel bubble for its visitors to Bintan and Batam a two-way one, hopefully without taking too long, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Tuesday (Jan 25).

"They would like to make the travel bubble a success, to be able to have more Singaporean visitors, and we will discuss with them and see how we can expedite things," Mr Lee told Singapore reporters after the Leaders' Retreat in Bintan.

"The ministries, particularly the transport ministries, will be talking to each other on this matter," he added.

Speaking at a joint press conference with President Joko Widodo earlier, Mr Lee said both leaders had agreed to continue discussions to expand air and sea travel more generally, to more destinations in Indonesia.

"But we have to take into account the Covid-19 situation, in particular the outbreak of the Omicron variant, and we will do so at a pace that both sides are comfortable with, taking into account our respective public health situations," he added.

Indonesia announced the start of the travel bubble for visitors from Singapore to the two islands on Monday, but Singapore currently requires a seven-day stay-home notice for returning visitors - unless they travel on the vaccinated travel lane (VTL) using designated flights from Jakarta.

"We would like to go further with that, and the Indonesians would also like to go further with their proposals," Mr Lee told reporters.

"We have proposed to them - how about we do a bilateral VTL to more destinations? Let's talk about it. It may not be ready to implement yet, but let's discuss it so that when the conditions are suitable, we are able to do it," he added.

Mr Widodo added that both countries are currently finalising cooperation on vaccine recognition and on aligning the interoperability of their platforms for tracking and protecting individuals against the virus.

On Monday, Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto said the Indonesian government was prepared to launch the travel bubble, as Covid-19 cases on the two islands are under control and the required protocols for the bubble had been put in place.

Under the arrangement, travellers from Singapore are allowed to enter Indonesia for a holiday at the Nongsa Sensation and Lagoi Bintan resorts on the two islands via Nongsapura ferry terminal in Batam and Bandar Bentan Telani ferry terminal in Bintan. However, they have to remain within the resort throughout the duration of their stay.

They must also be fully vaccinated and must have stayed in Singapore for at least 14 days prior to their arrival. They must also show a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken within three days before departing Singapore and take another when they arrive in Indonesia, among other requirements.

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Indonesian officials interviewed hoped the bubble can be widened.

Dr Frans Teguh, senior adviser to Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Sandiaga Uno, told The Straits Times: "If the travel bubble runs smoothly, then... it could be expanded while we stick to strict health protocols."

Batam Tourism Agency head Ardiwinata welcomed the possibility of further easing of travel between Singapore and more destinations in Indonesia.

He noted that Batam is ready to welcome Singaporean tourists, noting that more than 95 per cent of Batam's eligible residents are fully vaccinated, and a major drive to give booster shots to workers in the tourism sector is ongoing.

"We want Singaporeans to have confidence to come to Batam. If they ride a bus here (from the ferry terminal), for example, the driver would have been given a booster shot. Same case with ticketing personnel, money changers, attendants, hotel staff, spa therapists," Mr Ardiwinata told ST.

"We are ready," he said, adding: "We also hope Singapore would go easy on its people returning home from trips to Batam."

Mr Andy Fong, chairman of Batam's Nongsa Sensation which is within the travel bubble, underlined that workers were taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of tourists. He noted that all staff in the resort area had taken their booster shots, while Batam has among the highest vaccination rates in the country.

"We are sure if this stage runs smoothly, they will expand to other areas such as Batam Centre, Harbour Bay and Sekupang," he said. "Whether this succeeds depends a lot on us."

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