S'pore's Covid-19 travel lane: Where next after Germany and Brunei?

A few factors must come together for an ideal Vaccinated Travel Lane arrangement to be made between Singapore and a target destination.
A few factors must come together for an ideal Vaccinated Travel Lane arrangement to be made between Singapore and a target destination.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - So you have been to Germany, and Brunei's borders remain shut.

Still, the prospect of quarantine-free leisure travel finally beckons.

The Straits Times talks to industry experts who weigh in on popular destinations that may be future candidates for the Vaccinated Travel Lane (VTL).

However, they all caution the same thing - keep an eye on changing restrictions that may affect travel plans.

Expedia Brand's Apac head of communications Lavinia Rajaram says: "As the travel landscape evolves, and more destinations are carefully considered to be introduced under the VTL, it is crucial for travellers to be flexible, purchase travel insurance and research the local situation when planning for future or upcoming trips."

The Covid-19 situation and border measures are dynamic, and information is correct as of today.

The hopeful candidates

For an ideal VTL arrangement, a few factors must come together. The country or region must be deemed safe, welcome travellers from Singapore and be served by direct, designated flights.

Canada

Singapore is likely to partner with nations that have vaccinated a sizeable population with approved and internationally recognised vaccines, says aviation expert Simin Ngai from Cirium, a global travel analytics company.

Falling into category two, with almost 67 per cent of its population fully vaccinated and declining Covid-19 cases, Canada looks like one such moderate-risk destination.

The country is looking to open its borders to all fully vaccinated travellers from next Tuesday.

International flights can land at selected airports in cities such as Quebec and Ottawa. However, there are no direct flights between Singapore and Canada, which is currently one of the VTL requirements.

New Zealand

Dreaming of a road trip in crisp country air? New Zealand might just be on the cards. It has won plaudits for containing Covid-19 transmission with one of the lowest death rates in the world, though it saw an outbreak of the Delta variant of the virus last week.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said there are plans to allow quarantine-free entry to vaccinated travellers from low-risk countries from early next year. It remains to be seen if Singapore will make that list.

New Zealand intends to move from an elimination strategy to a risk-based one by the end of the year. It has administered at least one dose of the vaccine to about 40 per cent of the population and is looking to ramp this up.

Australia


Australian PM Scott Morrison said that the country will gradually open up to fully vaccinated international travellers once 80 per cent of Australia is fully vaccinated. PHOTO: AFP

Australia's four-phase pandemic recovery plan is good news for those missing the laid-back life Down Under.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last month announced that once 80 per cent of the country is fully vaccinated, it will gradually reopen to fully vaccinated international travellers from safe countries. It is aiming to achieve this by November.

And with flag carrier Qantas looking to resume international flights to Singapore by the end of the year, this is one destination worth keeping an eye on.

Denmark, Switzerland

What about countries already allowing in travellers from Singapore?

Of the nine category three countries, Denmark, Switzerland and Italy all appear likely candidates, with Singapore Airlines operating direct flights.

Of the three, Denmark looks the most promising from a public health standpoint. It has the highest vaccination rate, with at least 70 per cent of its population having received both doses. New cases have remained relatively low since the start of the year.

The country allows quarantine- free leisure travel for fully vaccinated people travelling from Singapore. Travellers from Singapore who are not fully vaccinated will have to take a Covid-19 test before departure and upon arrival.

Switzerland, meanwhile, has fully vaccinated about 51 per cent of its population and also allows quarantine-free travel for people from Singapore.


Switzerland currently allows quarantine-free travel for people from Singapore. PHOTO: ST FILE

Italy, however, still has some restrictions in place. It requires non-European Union citizens from Singapore, without family or long-term residence status there, to self-isolate for five days. About 62 per cent of its population is fully vaccinated.

Independent aviation analyst Brendan Sobie says Singapore is likely to take a measured approach, using the VTL with Germany as a pilot, and possibly making adjustments to the scheme.

He adds that it would make sense for Singapore to eventually open up to the European Union as a whole, especially since its borders are porous.

Taiwan

It is among four destinations that Singapore has classified in category one, with the lowest risk of Covid-19 transmission.

These destinations have the least stringent requirements for arriving travellers, who do not have to serve stay-home notice.

Taiwan, once a popular choice for weekend jaunts, said in June that it is in talks with international bodies about Covid-19 vaccine passports.

It has administered one dose of the vaccine to at least 40 per cent of the population.

While this makes it an ideal VTL candidate, independent aviation analyst Brendan Sobie points out that Taiwan, along with other category one destinations such as Macau and China, have not reciprocated with quarantine-free travel for visitors from here.

"The issue with the category one regions is that none of these are currently open to Singapore, so any VTL wouldn't have much of an impact," he says.

As with many Asian territories taking a zero-infection strategy, Taiwan remains cautious about relaxing border restrictions.

Japan, South Korea


The numbers of those who have received the first dose of the vaccine in Japan and South Korea have recently crossed the 50 per cent mark. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

What of Japan and South Korea, which are destinations on the wishlist of many? Both category three countries, their borders remain largely closed.

They have seen a spike in Covid-19 cases over the past month, making them less likely possibilities.

Still, those hankering for a cherry blossom holiday can take heart. Vaccinations in both countries are gathering pace, recently crossing the 50 per cent mark for first doses of the vaccine.

The wait-and-see

United States

Currently a category four country with the most stringent health measures for arriving travellers, there is hope yet for leisure travel to the United States.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last week said Singapore has come to a point where it can contemplate "vaccinated, safe, quarantine-free travel" with countries, and is looking to "pursue these conversations" with the US. He was speaking at a joint press conference with US Vice-President Kamala Harris at the Istana.

Although 57 per cent of the US population is fully vaccinated, the Delta variant has caused spikes in Covid-19 cases in states such as Florida, Texas, Alabama and Tennessee. Bringing these numbers under control would bode well for a VTL.

Britain


Britain currently has a vaccination rate of about 63 per cent, and is willing to accept visitors from countries that have kept Covid-19 under control. PHOTO: REUTERS

Independent aviation analyst Shukor Yusof notes Britain's willingness to accept visitors from countries that have kept the pandemic under control, adding that the flag carriers of both countries have daily flights linking London and Singapore.

A vaccination rate of about 63 per cent is encouraging, though scientists in Britain have criticised the easing of most coronavirus restrictions last month. These include no longer mandating face masks in most locations and allowing venues such as nightclubs and sports stadiums to operate at full capacity.

In the middle of last month, Britain recorded its largest spike in new cases in six months. With the Delta variant and the public health system under strain, it remains to be seen if the country can bring cases under control.

Those that fizzled out

Hong Kong


Singapore's plans for a travel bubble with Hong Kong were called off in July. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Hopes were high for the Hong Kong-Singapore air travel bubble, which was called off this month. The failed pilot demonstrates the importance of compatible Covid-19 strategies, says Cirium's Simin Ngai. "Hong Kong is pursuing a zero-infection strategy to eliminate Covid-19 while Singapore is working towards becoming Covid-19-resilient."

Bintan, Batam

Earlier this year, Indonesia announced a plan to establish a travel corridor that would allow quarantine-free entry for people from Singapore into the Riau Islands, including Bintan and Batam.

However, travellers would still have to serve a stay-home notice upon their return, making the weekend trip far less enticing.

Regardless, the plan has been shelved due to rising infection rates in the country.